Black Out

Describes causes and symptoms of fainting.

Have you ever experienced a black out, otherwise, known as fainting? The truth is that most people will experience at least one episode of fainting, if not more during their lifetime.

Syncope, the medical term for fainting is the sudden, temporal loss of consciousness, sometimes accompanied by a loss of muscle tone. Consciousness is usually restored immediately or within five minutes.

The most obvious cause of blacking out is a reduction or loss of blood and oxygen supply to the brain. The brain, through a system called the ‘reticular activating system,’ is responsible for the waking and sleeping rhythm of the human body. This system and the brain as a whole are heavily dependent on blood supply from the heart for maximum functioning. When blood supply is cut short, the reticular activating system malfunctions temporarily and shuts down but this process is short-lived because the body’s adaptive mechanisms are able to restore blood supply to the brain. This is why consciousness is restored almost immediately.

Syncope is usually underlined by some pathological conditions, which may not be asymptomatic to the patient. It is for this reason that any form of syncope attack should be presented to a medical doctor for further check-up. Some of these underlying conditions are:

1.      Anaemia: This is a common cause of blacking out in a malaria-endemic society like Nigeria. Idowu Sodiq, a 20 year old who resides in Oshodi, Lagos State, narrates how he experienced a black out. In his words, “It all happened on the 25th of October, 2010 when I began to feel feverish and weak. I had an urge to urinate and when I went to the toilet, I had a sudden black out. The next thing was that I found myself on the floor. I quickly went to the hospital, where the doctor diagnosed malaria and told me I had an episode of syncope.”

Malaria, which is caused by a parasite Plasmodium falciparum, can result in excessive loss of red blood cells and reduced oxygen supply to the brain. This is exactly what happened in the case of Idowu Sodiq. Other forms of anaemia such as sickle-cell anaemia can also cause a black out.


2.      Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy: Forget the medical term. It simply means an enlargement or thickening of the heart muscle. This reduces the ability of the heart to pump out blood and therefore reduces blood supply to the brain. We have heard of how footballers suddenly slumped and died on the football pitch. It is usually due to this disease condition that is pronounced in athletes and usually leads to sudden cardiac death in these set of people.

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