I teach a dance class with my friend Nicole on Fridays at 7:45a.m. at Be One Yoga Studio. We were talking at class last week and we both have kids who experience Vasovagal Syncope. If they go to get a shot or see blood they faint, pass out, vagal down–whatever you want to call it. It’s embarrassing, inconvenient, and scary to them.
It is not uncommon. A couple of years ago I was teaching a classroom full of College of Education students about tourniquets–because these days as a teacher it is a distinct possibility that they will be faced with having to stop a child from bleeding out as a result of a gunshot wound–and one of the young women in the class started to faint and had to be helped to the floor. Just the thought of tourniquets, without even images of blood or graphic pictures, was enough to trigger vasovagal syncope for her.
My son, Sean, was given atropine when they put an IV in him prior to his surgery for wisdom teeth because his heart rate dropped so low. He had to stay an extra hour after the surgery because his heart rate was staying in the 30s and 40s.
My son, Zach, literally turned green when he was getting stitches once. He starts to faint and has to sit down when there are needles around.
I have seen people die after a vasovagal response. But that is because they had heart disease and were very sick. Most of the time though, for healthy people, the syncope is not life threatening, just a problem to be managed.
What happens is that there is an adrenaline surge, for our kids it is a result of a fear (fear of needles, blood, etc.), followed by a vagus nerve response that dilates the veins, dropping the heart rate.
Nicole and I were talking about things the kids could do to try to prevent the reaction since they will have to see needles, give blood, get immunizations, and receive medical treatment for the rest of their lives.
These are the things that have worked for us:
- Stay horizontal. One of the factors of hypotension is that the body has to work against gravity to get the blood back to the heart. Keeping the body horizontal can reduce that pull. Also, it can prevent head injuries during the fainting episode.
- Benzodiazepines. Okay, so most people probably don’t have a bunch of bennies lying around, but if you have a prescription for these for anxiety, this is a good time to take it–before you go. Now, obviously, this can not be mistaken as medical advice. Ask your doctor if you need medication to help deal with this problem. Talk to your doctor if you have this problem at all. Medication can reduce the stress factor of the adrenergic response.
- Systematic desensitization therapy. This can be led by a therapist, but you can also willingly expose yourself to the thing you are afraid of incrementally increasing exposure until the anxiety producing event is no longer problematic.
Things that I think might work for us:
- Meditation. I have used meditation for other similar physiological responses to anxiety producing situations with great results, especially when paired with the next suggestion. Now, my kids have not yet tried this for their fear of needles, so I’m just pulling it in as a possibility.
- Self-hypnosis. Again, I have used this for smoking cessation and public speaking, and it seems reasonable to assume that you could program your brain not to respond to stimuli in the same way to prevent the physiological problem.
- Applied Tension Technique. This as a way to organically and systematically increase your blood pressure so that when it drops it doesn’t drop so low.
- Relaxation and distraction techniques are techniques I use every day with patients who don’t have needle phobias. I often ask patients to wiggle their toes, or talk to them about their lives to distract them from the horrible things I’m doing to them–whether I’m placing an IV, giving them a shot, or dressing their wounds.
Nicole had this list of resources that she likes:
- Jack Kornfield’s Heart Wisdom podcast (Korny intro but awesome talks)
- 10% Happier (meditation for fidgety skeptics)
- Calm (great visuals for focus during meditation)
- Insight Timer (has some guided meditations in there. Nicole’s favorites are Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield).
Years ago my friends Gina and Zara introduced me to Silva Method meditation. I love it because it gives people a method. Often my clients want to meditate but they feel stupid or that they are not doing it ‘right.’ The Silva Method helps provide a structure that can get you comfortable with the process.
And it seems, in my awareness, that a lot of people are drawn to Transcendental Meditation. I have not experienced the training for this yet, but it is intriguing.
One that I recommend to patients at the hospital often is HeadSpace because it is free and it starts with guided meditation and gradually increases the time and decreases the verbal.
Obviously we need to get our kids to try all the options because we haven’t had the opportunity to try much (see the above list of ‘things that have worked’). Fortunately there are tons of resources on the interwebs, and hopefully they will be open to being proactive with the process.
If you want to take part in my ‘post dance class talks with Nicole’ you’ll just have to come dance with us at Be One Yoga on Friday mornings!
Email Wendy at firstname.lastname@example.org to request a massage appointment.
Wendy Finn is the mother of 4 boys, former owner of I.M. Spa, registered nurse, Raw Food Enthusiast and educator, runner, world traveler in pursuit of superior massage education, Master Massage Therapist, massage therapy educator, and gardener. She’s passionate about touching people and sharing health.