I blacked out on a roller coaster last week. What should I do?
June 22, 2007 7:13 AM   Subscribe

I blacked out on a roller coaster last week. What should I do?

I'm a roller coaster enthusiast and one of my most favorite activities is going to amusement parks. I went to one last week and on two of the rides I blacked out. I will give you as much detail as I can. I went on 15-20 rides in the day and this only happened twice so it is not caused by riding on roller coasters alone. After it happened the first time, I went on a couple more roller coasters and it didn't happen again until about 3 or 4 rides later. The two rides that it happened on were fairly bumpy so it is possible I hit my head on the back of the seat but I don't actually remember that happening. Both rides were pretty rattley though so I was being shook up most of the time. The first time this happened, the sun was setting and so the sun was in my eyes. The second time it happened, it was night already but there were lights on the ride, maybe even blinking/flashing lights although I can't remember. Just to clarify, I don't know if what happened is really considered blacking out. It really seemed that I was seeing white, not black. All I know is that I couldn't see anything except for white for a couple of seconds. Then I was able to see again. I have not had any problems since these incidents. I am able to drive a car and function normally. The only time this happened was on those 2 (out of 20) roller coasters. One of the roller coasters I went on twice but it only happened the second time (at night). The only other thing I can think of that may impact this is I just had a cold so maybe stuff in my inner ear is out of whack? Sorry for making the description so long but I wanted to throw in any details that may have anything to do with the white outs.

Something similar happened to me a year ago when I was on a roller coaster. When I went to my doctor for a physical, I told him about it and he had my head MRIed. They told me there is nothing wrong with me (based on the MRIs). I am in my mid twenties and I am in good health (other than this).

My question is: Does anyone know what this is based on the description? If not, what type of doctor would I go to to get this checked out? (Or at the very least can someone direct me to a reliable medical forum where I can repost this question?)
posted by D Wiz to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You should go to your family doctor and have him refer you possibly for a neurology consult.

This sort of thing has happened to my sister, after passing out in public several times, she ended up being given a tilt table test, where she fainted immediately.. She was actually prescribed Zoloft (I think) to help manage the fainting - it was partially caused by stress - and it has helped a lot. But start with the doctor that knows you best.
posted by chlorus at 7:17 AM on June 22, 2007

Perhaps you were dehydrated or had low blood sugar at the time, both of which make me feel 'faint' especially if I get up too fast or make a sudden movement. Does that sound possible?
posted by infinityjinx at 7:21 AM on June 22, 2007

Just to clarify, I don't know if what happened is really considered blacking out. It really seemed that I was seeing white, not black. All I know is that I couldn't see anything except for white for a couple of seconds. Then I was able to see again.

If you never lost conciousness, then it's not considered "blacking out" (unless it was an episode of alcohol-induced memory loss ~ which is also called a "blackout ~ but that's not the case with your roller coaster experience, at least not from your description)...

It sounds like you had a severe visual disturbance/disruption caused by being jostled around so much... It's definitely something you need to go back to your doctor about, and probably stay off the roller coasters until you get it figured out.
posted by amyms at 7:31 AM on June 22, 2007

I fainted once after giving blood without having eaten anything prior and I definitely 'whited out'
posted by zeoslap at 7:45 AM on June 22, 2007

I don't actually have a local doctor who knows me well. I am away at school and have moved around quite a bit. I was hoping to be able to identify the correct specialist so I would not have to find a local general practitioner and then have him refer me to someone else rather be able to go straight to the right type of dr.

It is possible that I had low blood sugar or was dehydrated but not probable. I was trying to drink from water fountains fairly frequently and I had had a 32oz pepsi with lunch a couple hours before. Also, I don't usually feel faint. Although come to think of it, sometimes when I get up too fast I "see stars". Hmmmm... I never put the two together but while I am at it I should probably mention that to the dr too.

I had not had any alcohol that day. I don't *think* i blacked out at all then. But how would I know for sure? I think I remember everything that happened.
posted by D Wiz at 7:48 AM on June 22, 2007

This has happened to me and several other women I know. I just chalked it up to low blood pressure and centrifugal force.
posted by kamikazegopher at 7:49 AM on June 22, 2007

Stay off the coasters until you know what causes this. You need to see a neurologist. Perhaps ikkyu2 will have some advice, I believe neuro is his specialty, but even so you want someone who can examine you, not just opine based on limited information, although what you might hear here is good for discussion with your neurologist. This isn't something I would ignore.
posted by caddis at 7:55 AM on June 22, 2007

You might also need to see a cardiologist, as there are a number of cardiovascular conditions that can cause such a thing.
posted by TedW at 8:03 AM on June 22, 2007

Did you get a "glowy" feeling, like things started developing halos right before everything went bright?

Were the harnesses or cars restrictive, could the harness have been pressing on your chest or throat?

Was it really freaking hot?

Did you take any aspirin or anything else with a blood thinning effect (I think that covers most of the standard headache/general pain medicine)?
posted by anaelith at 8:05 AM on June 22, 2007

No glowy feeling that I remember.

Nothing was pressing on my throat. One of the rides only had a lapbar but was going really fast so it could have been pressing into my stomach, the other ride had a shoulder harness that could have been putting pressure on my chest. I don't remember it being particularly tight on either one.

It was hot during the day but one of the times I whited out was at night and at that point it wasn't hot at all.

No aspirin or any pills at all that day.
posted by D Wiz at 8:11 AM on June 22, 2007

Do you know what your normal blood pressure is? Is it on the low side of normal, by any chance?

I have a few friends who have fainting/visual-disturbance issues caused by low blood pressure, which can be exacerbated by different activities. (I know someone who described the same thing to me, except it was followed by unconsciousness, if she took a hot shower right after getting up in the morning. Hot shower dilates blood vessels, drops blood flow to the brain ... next thing you know, you're on the floor in the shower.)

It seems like something that your doctor ought to be a little concerned with, although since it only happened that one day while you were on a rollercoaster it is a bit difficult for him to diagnose, I suppose.

I guess if I was you, I'd be aware of it, and see if there are any other things that cause it, or make you feel like it's happening. And if it does happen again, immediately write down all the information you can about what you were doing, what you ate that day, etc.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:21 AM on June 22, 2007

Does anyone know what this is based on the description? If not, what type of doctor would I go to to get this checked out?

Honestly, start with your family doctor. He will be able to give better advice, especially if you have medical records there. It sounds like it was a simple oxygen -> brain blackout, as vision is usually the first thing to go. Stay off the rollercoasters for now and eat/sleep/exercise healthy....but definitely just get a routine physical to see if anything shows up.
posted by samsara at 9:58 AM on June 22, 2007

Could it be a Grey-out (aka brown-out)? See also: g-LOC. Not sure it's possible on a roller coaster, but it seems to be similar to your experience of white and not black taking over your field of vision. I've had it in the cockpit of a small plane during a moment of anti-Gs.
posted by sunshinesky at 11:12 AM on June 22, 2007

A lot of people have been citing low blood pressure as a possible culprit, so before you go all high-tech and expensive, you might just want to ask your local nurse/doctor with a sphygmomanometer (blood pressure gauge) to test you for possible Orthostatic Hypotension (blood pressure drop when changing position). You just get a pressure read while lying down, sitting down, and standing up, (with certain specified pauses between readings) and see if there is a significant difference. Wiki
posted by nursegracer at 12:04 PM on June 22, 2007

Are you SURE you're in good health... Do you work out? Do you have a strong cardio system? Do you know your HDL and other cholesterol levels?
posted by crewshell at 12:50 PM on June 22, 2007

What kind of rollercoaster? I mean, are we talking Iron Dragon or Top Thrill Dragster here? Maybe you just can't ride the really fast/rough ones.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:20 AM on June 23, 2007

More like Millennium Force. But it has nothing to do with that because I rode the same rough one twice and only once I whited out.

Just an update: I called my GP and he said that I should see an ENT and get the tilt table test as someone mentioned. He said I should also go to a electrophysiologist (a type of cardiologist) and have him check it out.

I haven't gone anywhere yet but I did bump into a cardiologist and radiologist that I am friends with and they both told me it is nothing to worry about. They said it is just blood not getting to the brain but it can't cause any damage. So I am not worrying about it.

The radiologist is a pilot too and he told me about a maneuver that pilots use to keep the blood flowing to the head. I forgot what it is called. It seems that the problem is caused by g-forces like this or this
posted by D Wiz at 9:30 PM on June 26, 2007

Update #2:

I doubt anyone is reading the thread at this point but I will write a conclusion for anyone who reads this in the future.

I went to the electrophysiologist and the ENT. The electrophysiologist found nothing. At the ENT I did an ENG which is like a tilt table test. The results said that I have a bilateral vestibular deficit. In other words, my vestibular (balance) system on both sides of my head (there is one in each ear) are abnormally low. My ENT said that she had never seen someone with low vestibular function on both sides. She suggested I get vestibular therapy and I haven't had a chance to do that yet. I'll update once I have. (She was not sure that therapy would help at all since she has never seen my condition before. If any doctors browsing this thread have other ideas, I'd love to hear them.)
posted by D Wiz at 9:36 AM on September 24, 2007

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