Abdominal cramps and diarrhea can usually be attributed to viral gastroenteritis, more commonly known as the stomach flu. Symptoms of viral gastroenteritis typically last for 1 to 3 days or longer. However, if you have severe abdominal cramps and diarrhea and find yourself dizzy and fainting, you may have vasovagal syncope, which can be a symptom of several different things. Here's what you need to know and how to determine the root cause of your fainting episode.
What is vasovagal syncope?
Vasovagal syncope occurs as a reflex that is triggered by the vasovagal response. To break the medical term down, "vaso" refers to your blood vessels (cardiovascular system), "vagal" refers to your vagus nerve (nervous systems), and "syncope" means fainting.
The vagus nerve runs from your brainstem to your abdomen. Stimulation of the vagus nerve can cause your blood vessels to constrict, which leads to paleness, dizziness, tunnel vision, and fainting. You may also suddenly feel warm and sweaty and be fatigued upon recovering from the syncope. According to research, 42% of women and 32% of men have at least one of these episodes before they reach the age of 60.
What are the causes of vasovagal syncope?
Vasovagal syncope can be caused by a number of different underlying medical conditions that can trigger the vasovagal reflex, including neurological, abdominal, and cardiovascular medical conditions. However, irritable bowel syndrome typically triggers vasovagal syncope, as well as other abdominal conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and gastroparesis.
Therefore, the first step in getting a proper diagnosis for the root cause of your syncope is to see a gastroenterologist. And, since the vasovagal reflex affects the cardiovascular and nervous systems, you'll need to be evaluated by a cardiologist and a neurologist as well. Sometimes, however, the cause of the reflex cannot be determined.
What are the tests that are done?
Each specialist will perform a clinical examination and possibly a series of tests to attempt to reach a diagnosis. Tests may include the following:
- From the gastroenterologist: MRI and CT scan of the abdomen, lab tests, barium swallow study
- From the cardiologist: electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, tilt table test
- From the neurologist: MRI and CT scan of the head and neck
It's important for your medical team to be able to communicate their findings with each other, as vasovagal syncope is systemic, which means it affects a group of systems — in this case, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and neurological. Therefore, be sure to sign a HIPAA disclosure form at each physician's office.
To learn more, contact resources like Frontier Gastroenterology & Hepatology.