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February 7, 2005

BehindTheMedspeak: Why did Hilary Clinton and Mike Krzyzewski collapse last week?


Odd, don't you think, that Senator Hilary Clinton, about to give a speech in Buffalo last Monday, and then Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski this past Saturday in Durham, N.C., without any apparent warning, each fell to the floor?


I thought so.

What caused these events?

It's called vasovagal syncope in the medical world, a vasovagal episode or attack in lay parlance.

It occurs when a complex reflex arc is triggered by anxiety or a sudden change in body position, usually from supine or sitting to standing.

The body's autonomic (automatic, or not under conscious control) nervous system overreacts to impulses traveling along the vagus nerve to the brain.

This exaggerated response leads to a drop in blood pressure and often a slowed heart rate.

When blood pressure drops, less blood flows to the brain, leading to fainting.

The two causes - neurogenic and positional - are different, but the final common pathway is the same, namely, people faint/pass out/lose consciousness.

In some cases, like Coach K's, the person appears not to lose consciousness, only muscle tone.

What to do if you see this about to happen, i.e., if someone says they feel woozy or lightheaded?

Sit them down, bend them forward with their head between their knees.

Even better, lay them gently on the ground, and let them come to in their own good time.

No need for a 911 call, no smelling salts, no slapping their cheeks like you see on TV: everyone recovers on their own, without any sequelae.

The only danger is a person's head hitting something on the way down - that way lies skull fractures and bleeding into the brain.

Same with epileptic seizures, while we're on the subject of going to the ground: just make sure the person doesn't hit their head on the way down, or while they're seizing.

Sticking something in the mouth to prevent biting the tongue is no longer recommended - just leave the person alone.

Again, no 911 call, no heroics.

Less is more.

Thank you, Drs. van der Rohe and Occam, for the excellent consultations.

February 7, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


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sequelae - pathology - illness - Thanks for the vocabulary builder Joe!

Posted by: Mattp9 | Feb 7, 2005 8:18:09 PM

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