Vasovagal syncope during pregnancy

What is vasovagal syncope?

According to my OB, Amy Stoddard, vasovagal syncope is not very common during pregnancy but is still considered a normal symptom. It is something that is easily managed and the phase should pass unless you have experienced episodes before pregnancy. Episodes can occur when you need to use the restroom, cough, or experience stress. Your vasovagal nerve becomes stimulated, causing your blood pressure to drop and you to feel faint.

The Pregnancy Corner website states:

Vasovagal syncope: A common cause of fainting episodes, vasovagal syncope is caused by a chemical imbalance. The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that runs from the brain to the abdomen. Stimulating the vagus nerve releases a chemical that slows the heartbeat and dilates the blood vessels. When this happens the brain does not receive enough blood, and this can cause a pregnant woman to faint. Vasovagal syncope can be brought on by pain, stress, straining during urination or bowel movement, , dehydration or anemia. Symptoms of vasovagal syncope include nausea; feeling warm or lightheaded; sweating; become pale; and hyperventilating. This condition is more common in pregnant women. Sitting down and putting the head between the knees can help prevent fainting when the symptoms of vasovagal syncope begin. (Lee, 2015).

How to take care of yourself during an episode

Soon after I reached the halfway point in my pregnancy, I began to experience vasovagal episodes. Thinking about it, this makes sense because your blood pressure is lowest during mid-pregnancy due to the increase in blood volume in your body. Therefore, episodes are more likely. For me, they usually occurred within an hour or so of eating breakfast (maybe 2-3 hours after waking up). I would suddenly get hot and sweaty, very uncomfortable in my chest and abdomen area, lightheaded, and have tunnel vision. The frequency of my episodes peaked around the 5th month of pregnancy. I had about 3 per week.

The most important thing you can do is listen to your body, especially during pregnancy. As soon as you begin to feel faint, hot, tired, etc. do something that will make you feel better, and do it immediately. Now is not the time to push yourself or to keep up with other people. During my episodes, all I could think about was lying down, so that’s what I did. I had to take care of myself in that moment before I could ask my doctor about it or try to find an explanation elsewhere. Lying down on your left side is the best position to maximize blood flow to your brain and to your baby, the same position you should try to sleep in as pregnancy progresses! You want to try to prevent falling down and potentially injuring yourself or your baby. If you can’t lie down, sit with your head between your knees or ask for help.

Next, there is a good chance that after a few episodes, you will get nervous and want to ask your doctor. Do it. That’s what they are there for. It can be very helpful to think about your episodes and see if you can identify a pattern. Are you always doing the same activity when the episodes begin? Is it a particular time of day? For me, my episodes happened around the same time of day, particularly when I was about to have a bowel movement. (TMI? Maybe. But if you’re pregnant or know a pregnant person, then things such as passing gas, belching, stretch marks, and bad body odor become commonplace. You’re growing another person, so cut yourself some slack!) Anyway, although my OB couldn’t give me medicine or an exact date when my episodes would pass, her reassurance that everything was ok made me feel loads better. I wasn’t crazy, I just needed to identify my trigger and be prepared to lie down at the onset of an episode.

My craziest episodes…

Most of my episodes happened while I was still at home, so they never amounted to much. However, the few episodes that did occur when I was out were definitely more severe. I think in these situations I was more anxious because I wasn’t at home, so the intensity and duration was greater than my usual experiences.

  • Tommy and I were in the car (thankfully he was driving), when I started to get uncomfortable. At first I thought it was the car seat, but then I quickly experienced light sensitivity, tunnel vision, and of course I felt hot and sweaty. This episode made me panic because it came on so quickly. It probably lasted for 5-10 minutes until I was able to get home and lie down. At the time it felt like much longer. The anxiety definitely made things worse, but Tommy was extremely calm and supportive of me. He immediately took me home, helped me up the stairs, and called my sister to “babysit” me just in case when he had to leave for work. After lying down I felt fine, just very tired. I probably stayed in bed for the next few hours. I was physically and emotionally drained.
  • I had just dropped Tommy off at work and was driving home alone when I became uncomfortable again, as I had in the previous episode. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it home unless I addressed the situation first, so I pulled into a Rite Aid parking lot, blasted the AC, reclined my seat, and lied down on my left side. I stayed there for about five minutes when I realized I had to make it to the restroom or go in my pants. As I was hurrying out of the car to the store I had to stop and sit briefly with my head between my legs. At this time I felt embarrassed in case anyone was watching my sweaty, smelly self. This embarrassment actually made me feel better. I realized that if I could feel embarrassed in this moment instead of asking for help, then I was able to take care of myself. It kept me calm. I then went to the restroom and felt much better. I sat in there for another 10 minutes until I felt safe enough to drive home.
The dreaded “glu-cola.” Drinking it cold helps!
  • At 24 weeks I had to go in for my glucose screen, which tests for gestational diabetes. Basically, you fast for 2 hours, drink this really sugary drink, wait and hour, and then have your blood drawn. My drink tasted like flat orange soda mixed with mouthwash. My tummy wasn’t happy, but at least it tasted like familiar stuff that you would normally put in your mouth! Anyway, as I was waiting to have my blood drawn, I of course had to have an episode. Luckily, it was fairly empty in there and I was quiet so no one really paid attention went I put my hair up and my head down. Luckily I had a thin tank top on under my sweater so I didn’t have to be too exposed to cool myself off! Although it lasted for about 10-15 minutes, I again felt that sense of embarrassment so I was able to stay calm. Also, I was surrounded by medical professionals anyway. If I had to faint, this would be the safest place to do it.

I’m now 6 months pregnant and the episodes have waned. I did experience a mild one yesterday, but that was the first one in almost 2 weeks! At this point, my blood pressure should be on the rise again, so hopefully the worst of these episodes is behind me.

Reference:

Lee, D. (2015). Dizziness During Pregnancy. Pregnancy Corner: Your Complete Pregnancy Guide. Retrieved from http://www.pregnancycorner.com/pregnant/pregnancy-symptoms/dizziness.html

32 thoughts on “Vasovagal syncope during pregnancy

  1. Hello,

    First of all, thank you so much for posting this. I am 15 weeks pregnant with triplets and have been having these exact episodes each day. They come on at all different times, but they are onset by needing to have a bowel movement as well. Did you continue to have these episodes throughout the end of your pregnancy? Do you have them any longer now that you are no longer pregnant? Thank you for all of your help, this blog was such a relief to read.

    • Hi Kel!

      My episodes were most noticeable during my second trimester. I’d say weeks 20 through 30 roughly. I did have a few during my last trimester but they were much less severe. I’m not sure if that’s because the episodes really were less intense or because I knew what I was dealing with, recognized the signs early on, and appropriately took care of myself so they wouldn’t get worse. I definitely have not had any since giving birth. Everything in the bowel movement department is back to normal 🙂 Hopefully you have a similar or even better experience!

      I’m so glad this helped someone and congratulations on triplets!!!

  2. I experienced this this morning and it was the scariest thing ever. I am 25 weeks pregnant and now I’m wondering if I will experienced this the day I give birth. Or is it only during bowel movements that this happens.

    • Hi Maria,

      From what my doctor said, a variety of things can trigger an episode. For me personally it was bowel movements. My episodes subsided around the 30 week mark and I didn’t have that as an issue during delivery. Talk with your doc if you haven’t already, but try not to worry yourself. Once you start recognizing the signs of an episode it’s a lot easier to be calm and take care of yourself appropriately. I think it’s really good to let your family, friends, and coworkers know (only if you are comfortable), that way they can assist you if necessary…or at least not give you funny looks when you suddenly need to lie down on the floor! And in general, you can prepare like crazy for labor and delivery but nothing ever goes exactly as planned!

  3. What a relief to find your post. This started happening to me at 23 weeks and I’m now 27 weeks. My episodes happen after eating too and usually feel like I have to take a bowel movement right before. I passed out once and have nearly passed out several times since. As soon as I feel the symptoms, I lie down on my left side with my legs elevated higher than my head. Sometimes it takes 30 mins of resting until I can feel steady again. Do you have any other tips for managing this? We’re there certain foods/drinks/routines that helped you through these unpredictable episodes?

    • Hi Nanci!

      Sorry for such a late reply. Another person commented that compression leggings helped her with her episodes. Personally, drinking cool water or lemonade made me feel better since one of my early warning signs was getting very hot. Coffee made things worse, but only because I tend to have a bowel movement within an hour of drinking some. Though because it is a diuretic maybe it is best to cut the caffeine out altogether? I know the recommendations vary on caffeine intake. My doctor said 200 mg or less was fine, and I definitely needed something to help me out in the morning!

      Hope you are feeling better!

  4. When I was pregnant I dealt with this from week 11-37. It was miserable. I’m a hairdresser and I would always suffer from this during my first client of the day. I couldn’t take time to lay down because I ran a busy book so I would just struggle through very confused until I would end up running to the bathroom for my sweaty self to puke. I never passed out, just always felt on the verge of it. I assumed that puking put enough stress on my body to raise my blood pressure back up (I knew it had to do with blood pressure). I felt GREAT after throwing up. I wish I could have figured out what it was. I used to google and Google and find nothing. My Dr was no help. She just wanted to give me a note to take more breaks but that’s just not realistic in my industry. Around 30 weeks my mom bought me compression leggings and that was the only thing that helped. I also found that if I had coffee in the morning it would help. I had cut it out to be healthier for baby but I found that it was necessary to have one cup to get me from having an episode. Lord bless those of you struggling with this. I fear being pregnant again because I had such a hard time.

    • Hey Karinda!

      Great tip on the compression leggings! Hopefully I won’t have these episodes with future pregnancies, but if I do I will try the leggings out!

  5. Hi There

    I have been having the same issues!! So far i have fainted 4 times and 2 of them were back to back.. they also have been happening while i feel like i have to have a bowel movement. I am just about 26 weeks along.
    My midwife is wanting to switch me over to a Maternity clinic now because this is not something they are used to dealing with and she is worried that i will have these attacks while trying to give birth.. where you still able to give natural birth or did you have to have a C-section? and at what point did they stop happening to you?
    thank you for posting about this because i have been feeling totally alone with this and no one i know has any idea about this.

    • Hey Melissa!

      I was able to have a regular vaginal birth. My episodes stopped happening around the 30 week mark. I wasn’t even close to fainting during labor and delivery. I just had epic back labor and a nice fat epidural! Now that you are aware of the episodes, you really are in control. You know your triggers and the warning signs. Let those close to you know as well so they can be there to support you!

  6. It is very frustrating to have this issue for 31 years and have not wanted to get pregnant yet,anxiety triggers it as well and I just don’t faint,I pass out and lose conscious .

  7. Hello! I know this is a few months late but hoping to get some answers. I am currently 38 weeks pregnant and have had about 10 of these episodes starting in the second and last trimesters of my first pregnancy. I have only fully lost consciousness once and the other times just blacked out. I always start profusely sweating, feel like I have to have a bowel movement, begin to have a panic attack and black out. My OB sent me to a cardiologist who did an EKG said it was normal, did an echo on my heart which was normal as well thank goodness. I am still wearing a heart monitor for 30 days monitoring my heart everyday but my OB wants to induce me before my due date which is unsettling to me. She also stated she wants to use forceps during delivery so I do not pass out from pushing :/ I struggle with severe anxiety so I have been on edge and shaky since she told me this. I am dizzy everyday , short of breath and just very miserable. She has told me to not return to work which is good because I need to rest. Sorry for the huge story I am just freaking out about birth and wanting to try and go natural and avoid a C-section if at all possible :/ any tips would be so greatly appreciated 🙂

    • Hi Allison!

      I’m sorry you are feeling so anxious about delivering. This is probably really frustrating to hear, but my advice would be to try to relax and surrender to the experience. Literally be present in every moment and go by how your body feels at the time. Since you can recognize the onset of an episode, be sure to grab a cool glass of water and lie down until the episode passes. If you are very concerned, don’t feel afraid to shoot a text to someone or make a phone call for support.

      Also, let your family, friends, etc know how they can best support you during labor so they can advocate for you at the hospital. At the same time, the doctors and nurses will do what they feel is necessary to keep you and your baby safe, so trust them as well. I think the scariest part is not knowing what exactly to expect. I definitely had less anxiety once at the hospital. Even though the contractions sucked, I knew there were people around that would help me and I could get pain medication if I wanted. Try to focus on meeting your baby face to face for the first time!

  8. Thank you so much for your post! I just had my 1st Vagal Near-Syncope last week at just over 25 weeks pregnant. It felt like it came in so randomly. I was in church – moving from standing to kneeling (of course during the most holy, important part of the Mass – doh!). I’m not sure what the trigger was – I WAS about an hour after I ate, though I don’t feel like I had to have a bm or anything!

    My doctor did an ECG, and I guess it was basically good – but looked like there was some enlargement of the atria… so now I have to have an echocardiogram next week. My OB said not to worry about it… so I’m not too stressed. Though my primary care doc kinda freaked me out with some scary: “it’s rare… but it could be (insert scary cardiac problem here).”

    We’ll see how the echo goes!

    Still, your experience sounds almost identical to mine (AND around the same time in the pregnancy!). It really helped me relax a bit more! Again, my OB said not to get too worried… but my darn Primary Doc kinda scared the poop outta me a bit!!!! Thanks for helping me relax… until the next test, anyway! Ha!

  9. Thank you so much for your post! I just had my 1st Vagal Near-Syncope last week at just over 25 weeks pregnant. It felt like it came in so randomly. I was in church – moving from standing to kneeling (of course during the most holy, important part of the Mass – doh!). I’m not sure what the trigger was – It WAS about an hour after I ate, though I didn’t feel like I had to have a bm or anything!

    My doctor did an ECG, and I guess it was basically good – but looked like there was some enlargement of the atria… so now I have to have an echocardiogram next week. My OB said not to worry about it… so I’m not too stressed. Though my primary care doc kinda freaked me out with some scary: “it’s rare… but it could be (insert scary cardiac problem here).”

    We’ll see how the echo goes!

    Still, your experience sounds almost identical to mine (AND around the same time in the pregnancy!). It really helped me relax a bit more! Again, my OB said not to get too worried… but my darn Primary Doc kinda scared the poop outta me a bit!!!! Thanks for helping me relax… until the next test, anyway! Ha!

  10. Thank you so much for sharing. It has been such a relief to know that I am not the only one experiencing this.

    I am 8 weeks pregnant with my 3rd child and have been really concerned about this. I didn’t have this in my other pregnancies so my husband thinks it’s twins. My first scan isn’t for another month but I desperately want to check baby is ok so I may organise to pay for one sooner.

    I have had 3 episodes so far, one on the toliet (super embarrassing as my husband found me) and two while feeling very sick first thing in the morning. I was not able to be sick except for bile so I suspect this is what caused it. After 20 mins on lying down I have felt better but I have a big bruise on my nose from fainting on to the bathroom radiator. I don’t care mind, as long as baby is ok.

    I am convinced it is something to do with my blood pressure/blood sugar levels but I will speak to the midwives at my booking appointment this week.

    I am so thankful that you shared this. Thanks again.

  11. Very relieving to read this post. This happens to me anywhere between 2-8 times DAILY since about 14 weeks. Increasing to more often as I progress in my pregnancy. It happens every day about an hour after I get to work and then as often as once an hour for the rest of the day. Walking up stairs, sitting for long periods, and getting even a little bit hot outside all seem to trigger this. I get hot, sweaty, dizzy, see stars or lose vision, feel very faint and have to lay down in order not to faint. It is starting to hinder normal activity. I am 25 weeks, my glucose test is tomorrow so I will bring this up with my OB then. Blasting AC in the car and laying my seat all the way back, lying on left side or just laying down at home seems to make it a little better. However, often toward the end of the day, once I feel ok to move around and proceed to do so, it happens again and again so I’m usually in bed right after my 2.5 year old goes down for the night. This is miserable!!!

  12. So glad I’m not the only one! I’m 22 weeks pregnant and earlier today this happened to me for the first time while I was on the toilet. I started to feel nauseous and then blacked out, when I came to I was falling off the toilet but was able to catch myself. I couldn’t get up cause everything was spinning. Scariest thing ever, I am going to my doctor first thing in the morning. I’m so scared it will happen while I’m driving😭

  13. So I am thinking of becoming pregnant again. I deal with Vasovagel Syncope and I’m not pregnant. I have episodes usually before a bowel movement and I always pass out. There is no treatment other than to eat salt and drink water. Its much worse in the summer. But what’s different from your all’s pregnancies is that my only pregnancy was easy peasy. I had no Vasovagel episodes. I had no morning sickness….nothing. It was a blessing. But I deal with these episodes when I’m not pregnant. I was pregnant from June to March (but I didnt know I was pregnant until August at 8 weeks). So most of my pregnancy was during the colder months. I want to become pregnant again, but it now being November, I’m wondering if I should wait until June or July again so I’m not “very” pregnant in the hotter months, where I may be more prone to have these episodes. Was everyone that has commented experiencing episodes when it was spring or summer time? Just curious. Thanks.

  14. This blog was very helpful! I have Vasovagel Syncope and fortunately it’s very rare but was told it can get worse during pregnancy… With that being said, I’m very aware of what to do when I feel the symptoms and to stay hydrated. My question to you is: What is the best birthing plan, for someone who has Vasovagel Syncope? WITHOUT being pregnant I suffer from this now and knowing, I will possibly experience it later in pregnancy (I’m only 13wks); I’m concern as to what would be the best birth plan. Thanks in advance, for your advice.

  15. Glad to know others have experienced this. I’ve had intermittent vasovagal episodes before pregnancy (about 1 time a year). I’m currently 16 weeks pregnant and have had 4 episodes, 3 with loss of conciousness, in the past 2 days. I haven’t found a definite activity that has caused these episodes, but they seem to be before eating a meal. Each episode has been followed by vomiting. I hope I can find something that will prevent these episodes, or at least give a warning of more than 5 seconds before losing consciousness. I work as a pediatric home-care physical therapist, so I need a solution so that I can safely get back to driving and working with infants and young children. Any tips or tricks would be great! Following up with my primary care doctor as my OB has said there is nothing he can do about it. Thanks!

  16. Hi everyone

    I’m about 30 weeks it started at 5 months. I initially thought I had over walked. I suddenly feel uncomfortable and warm. I feel its difficult to breathe. They normally come on after a meal. I have found ice to help with cooking down. The episode lasts for about 10-15 min but feels like forever.

    I generally have low blood pressure I read salt helps.

  17. So good to read others experiences with this, I have suffered with this since finding out I was pregnant. I am currently 26 weeks pregnant, suffered from fainting usually once a day. Constantly feel exhausted/drained/no energy at all I also go really pale just before I faint and often see stars, go light headed/dizzy . There doesn’t seem to be any type of pattern when these episodes happen, however it is worse when I’m out as I become more anxious. This is my second pregnancy, I didn’t suffer with any of this with my first so find it really strange but I guess every pregnancy is different. Also I’ve found that my skin is really dry in places, my hair is breaking off and my skin breaks out constantly. I’m starting to feel anxious about labour and delivery and how my body is going to react and cope. Doctors haven’t put a birth plan in place yet, I would prefer to have a natural birth but wonder if induction/c-section is more likely?

  18. Thank you for writing this. I had a vasovagel episode last night that put me in hospital overnight. I sat up in bed feeling breathless and then suddenly had intense need to go to the toilet and vomit all at the same time. I was very sick and near fainting for ten minutes until the ambulance arrived. It was terrifying. I’m still lying in hospital waiting for their diagnosis but I’ve done lots of research and I’m oretty certain this is what happened to me, all be it rather severe.

  19. Hello there I had the exact same issue around the 4 month mark. I saw a heart specialist who told me to drink at least 2 litres of water per day and to increase my salt intake. I have always had slightly low BP but I’ve been told it’s ideal and have never had anything to worry about. Advise from Dr definitely helped as I experienced very few episodes thereafter. Some of my triggers were eating a heavy meal and being in hot weather. Soon after delivery my body was back to normal with no issues so don’t worry!

  20. OMG I thought I was dying when this happened to me around week 22! I was just sitting at my desk and all of the sudden felt like I had overexerted outdoors in the heat! I jumped up because I needed a fan blowing on me asap, and I had to yell to my office admin that I was going to lay on the ground to faint and I needed a wet paper towel for my forehead. After laying down for a few minutes and drinking cold water, I felt better but I was freaked out. Now (week 31) I know it is very related to how full my stomach/colon is (gross). The week after my first episode I went in for a regular ob appointment and I hadn’t gone to the restroom yet that day and after laying down for doppler, I started to have an episode in front of the midwife. Now I know to be very careful about how much I eat during the day before making room for the food. It’s terrifying to start to get that feeling but now I know I have to lay down immediately and get cold air blowing on me and be more aware of how much food I scarf down and when. Glad to hear I am not alone…what a crazy thing to experience!

  21. Im 34 weeks pregnant and this has happened to me about 5 times during my pregnancy- including today, which was really scary. I get episodes at all times of day- doesn’t matter if I’ve eaten or not, they just come randomly! I live in NYC and take the subway to work. In total, my commute is about 45 minutes of walking, standing, walking up stairs and sitting on a crowded hot subway. I’ve tried to “tough it out” but I learned my lesson after I’ve fainted three times now on the subway. It always ends in me slumping over, hyperventilating and crying… bc I get scared? I don’t know why I cry? Many people on the subway/train unfortunately do not offer their seat to a pregnant woman even though they are supposed to, so don’t be afraid to speak up and ask to have a seat!!! . My doctor told me to avoid hot cramped trains, and that those compression socks would help, so I am looking into buying them.
    I had to learn my lesson the hard way, so take care of yourselves out there mamas!
    Go easy on yourself and don’t force yourself to keep up with other people or work.

  22. I had this same thing happen with my first pregnancy. Does anyone know whether this means I’m likely to go through this again if I get pregnant again? Thanks

  23. Omg what a relief.. this is actually my first pregnancy and I’m 9 weeks pregnant. I’ve been feeling faint & I do tend to get tunnel vision only when I’m outside for a long period of time or when I feel far from home. I’ve passed out twice and it was honestly the worse feeling ever. I feel as if my heart is gonna come out of my chest.. I also have anxiety so that makes it worse & I tend to get shaky and sweaty. I only get these symptoms when I’m outside and when I’m exposed to the heat. I am a teen mom and half these posts are with mothers that’s way far along then I am. Wow I hope these symptoms go away 😩 I’m still early. I get so anxious that I feel like I have to stay home all day

  24. Hi,

    I actually had vasalvagal prior to pregnancy and hadn’t had an episode in at least 6 years, i found that now that I am pregnant I am experiencing them again, but instead of fainting like usual I am vomitting. Be careful though this can effect your heart and your ob may send you to a cardiologist.

  25. Hello All,
    I’m glad I found this post. Did any of you experience twitching when you passed out? While my midwife was measuring my belly I came over dizzy and very hot and passed out for about 10 seconds and I was twitching apparently.

    • My husband has had a few episodes and when he passes out he twitches. I think that’s normal for vasalvagal fainting episode

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