Vasovagal Syncope, AKA Why Some People Pass Out When They See Blood

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Sorry I’ve been gone a minute. There’s a lot of exciting stuff that I’ve been working on coming in the next month or so! I started a podcast, which I’ll do a whole post about when it’s released. I think everyone will like it though, if you like my writing. If not, what are you doing here?

I’m working on a longer piece about bees that’s been driving me crazy over the last few months and I’ll talk all about it when it finally comes together.

The last piece I’ve been working on is part of some investigative journalism work and I have no idea if it’s going to go anywhere or if it’ll end up in the ever growing pile of unfinished ideas in my Google Docs. I’ll give you one hint and say that I spent quite a while this week pouring over IRS records and legal depositions. I hope it turns into something I can show you guys.


Now, I have a story that’s way funnier to me than it is to my friends and family. In a nutshell, I fainted for the first — and hopefully only — time in my life. I’m fine; I was sitting down at my doctor’s when it happened. There could not have been a safer situation. I lay down for half an hour, ate some cookies, drank some apple juice and was good as new. While there have been no lasting medical effects, it was (unsurprisingly) curious. So I asked my doctor, talked to two more doctors, and did a deep dive into all the research on the web.  


What happened is called “vasovagal syncope,” which I have to say outloud at least three times in order to say correctly. (Vase-oh-vay-gull sink-oh-pee.)


You know how Paris faints at the sight of blood in the Gilmore Girls? Or have you seen that video of the absurdly endearing fainting goats? Or that kitten? They all have some version of it too, so I’m in good company. Also I’ve been talking to people about this for a couple weeks and everyone has a story about it. My boss has a great story about her mom fainting when listening to a story about a child having a nosebleed. Holly, my friend, told me this morning about her kid’s dad fainting in the ER while she was giving birth.


My doctor told me that it mostly happens to young, healthy people, but she may have lying to make me feel better.


Anyway. We have two nerves called the Vagus nerves which control involuntary processes like heart rate, blood pressure, and other important stuff. It links the brain to the heart, lungs, stomach, and various other organs. It’s kind of a big deal and does a surprising amout of stuff in the body.


Like most other bodily functions, it can be easily confused. The nerve is very sensitive to our emotions, which is something I relate to. I’m also easily confused. It makes sense that mine is extra sensitive. If it gets shocked, by seeing blood or locking your knees or standing in the heat for too long, it freaks out and decides that the blood vessels in your legs should dilate. This leads to your blood physically rushing from your head to your legs. Unsurprisingly this leads to fun symptoms like light-headedness, nausea, tunnel vision, and — if it’s bad enough — fainting.


It usually doesn’t last long and isn’t a cause for worry unless it happens a lot or happens for too long. Unless you hit your head, which is the most dangerous part. My advice is to do what I did and already be sitting down when you faint.  


About The Author

Just a girl who has a lot of feelings about planetary science

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