Cough syncope (fainting from coughing)

Head | General Practice | Cough syncope (fainting from coughing) (Disease)


A cough is a sudden and often repetitively occurring reflex which helps to clear the large breathing passages from irritants, secretions, foreign particles and microbes. The cough reflex consists of three phases: an inhalation, a forced exhalation against a closed glottis, and a violent release of air from the lungs following opening of the glottis, usually accompanied by a distinctive sound. Coughing can happen voluntarily as well as involuntarily.

Fainting (syncope) is a partial or complete loss of consciousness with interruption of awareness of oneself and ones surroundings. When the loss of consciousness is temporary and there is spontaneous recovery, it is referred to as syncope or, in non-medical quarters, fainting. Syncope accounts for one in every 30 visits to an emergency room.

Symptoms include fainting or feeling very lightheaded during or after a coughing spell.

Causes and Risk factors

Syncope is due to a temporary reduction in blood flow and therefore a shortage of oxygen to the brain. This leads to light-headedness or a black out episode, a loss of consciousness. Temporary impairment of the blood supply to the brain can be caused by heart conditions and by conditions that do not directly involve the heart.

The fainting is usually associated with severe and prolonged episodes of coughing. This disorder is much more common in adult men. The exact cause is not known but is believed to be the stimulation of complex autonomic nervous system reflexes connecting the brain, heart and respiratory system. Smoking increases the likelihood of this problem.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Most effort is aimed at treating the cough with cough suppressants, and exhaling before coughing. If the patient has an central or peripheral dysautonomia, treatment should be directed towards correcting that disorder too. ...

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