Circulatory collapse: possible triggers
Participants collapsing at large events such as open-air festivals is a common phenomenon. However, the excitement of seeing their favourite band live has little to do with it. Rather, the collapse is triggered by standing for long periods of time in large crowds or confined spaces. Or forgetting to drink enough – non-alcoholic – drinks in hot weather. Often, several of these factors lead to a circulatory collapse, known in medicine as vasovagal syncope.
Causes of a circulatory collapse
In most cases, it’s a harmless, brief blackout, caused by an overreaction of the nervous system to pain, for example. The collapse can also be due to a sudden reduction in blood flow or hypoglycaemia. But other causes can also be serious medical conditions that require treatment, like cardiac arrhythmia, epilepsy or pulmonary embolisms.
What are the signs of a circulatory collapse?
Patients black out for a few seconds because their blood pressure suddenly drops, leading to «bloodlessness» and a lack of oxygen in the head.
Typical signs of a circulatory collapse
- cold sweat
- a rising feeling of heat from the stomach
Who is susceptible to a collapse?
Young, petite women or tall, slim men are often susceptible because their blood pressure is already low, mostly due to their constitution.
Impending circulatory collapse: What can I do myself?
At the first signs: sit down or, better still, lie down. This will prevent a collapse and therefore also a fall and potential injuries.
Elevate your legs: this can improve the blood supply to the brain.
Cross legs over each other and strongly activate the muscles. This «leg pressing» exercise prevents the blood from pooling in the legs and stimulates the flow back to the heart.
Avoid triggering factors
Because it’s better to be safe than sorry, avoid triggering factors as far as possible. These are:
- blazing sun
- stuffy air
- standing for too long
- getting up too quickly
First aid for a circulatory collapse
If a person collapses and the blackout lasts for a longer period, or if neither pulse nor breathing can be felt: immediately alert the emergency doctor on 144 and start CPR. If breathing and pulse are perceived, place the patient in the recovery position. Always call the emergency services in this case too.
In addition, you should keep an eye on people who collapse to make sure they don't hurt themselves. Georg Fröhlich, cardiologist at the Hirslanden Klinik St. Anna in Lucerne, says: «In an uncontrolled fall, older people in particular sometimes sustain considerable injuries such as thigh fractures or brain haemorrhages.»
When to see a doctor
The basic rule is: always see a doctor after a fainting incident, especially when it happens for the first time.