Vaso-Vagal Syndrome Mysteries

This topic has given rise to many inquiries on my website. Below you will find a brief explanation of how I became interested in vaso-vagal syndrome and why the online discussion forum for vaso-vagal syndrome was established here.

Around November of 1996, three of my patients spontaneously developed symptoms that were quite similar, quite distressing, and that I had never seen among my patients in the previous 21 years I had been in practice. The common symptoms were nausea associated with eating, perspiring, a "swooning" dizziness, and fainting. After medical evaluation, all three were told the cause could be "vaso-vagal" in nature. Despite the fact the episodes continued to occur, none of their physicians were particularly sympathetic or concerned.  In addition, not one  physician suggested a referral to a specialist.  In response to the condition getting progressively worse, all three patients developed secondary anxiety and panic attacks. Since I was not very familiar with vaso-vagal syndrome and did some research through the National Library of Medicine and posted the research abstracts I found on this site.

Of the three patients, two were females in their mid thirties and one was a male in his early 60's. All of the patients knew the symptoms of an anxiety attack and all were certain that, at least in the beginning, the "vaso-vagal" condition was quite different. They didn't feel dissociated dizziness nor did they suffer from "tunnel" vision, instead, they knew they were going to pass out and were looking for a place to land as they fell to the ground. Aside for nausea, the patients had little in common save blood sugar: One patient was diabetic and another of the patients thought her condition was exacerbated by eating sugar. However, no positive relationship between their symptoms and blood sugar was ever shown medically. The women found the condition was worse around the time of their menstrual period.

All three patients were quite disturbed by the severity of the symptoms and the unpredictability of the symptoms' onset. In addition to the common symptoms, one patient's jaw involuntarily clenched so severely she had to go to an emergency room (this symptom has been reported by at least two people who have contacted me by telephone after seeing the web site).  Another patient lost bowel and bladder control when she became unconscious.  Again, all were also disturbed by the fact that medical people failed to take their symptoms very seriously.  The measures that were suggested to remedy the situation were not particularly satisfactory (advice to get up slowly from a seated or reclined position slowly,  medication to raise their blood pressure, or an uncomfortable diagnostic measure (tilt table) which would prove the diagnosis but not lead to any different treatment options.

Fortunately, over the next year and a half, all three patients had a complete remission of their "vaso-vagal" symptoms.

Because the vaso-vagal research abstracts have received so many visitors to this website and because I have received many communications from those who appear to suffer from similar symptoms, I decided to start a discussion forum on the topic since vaso-vagal syndrome is a rare enough phenomenon that most people who have it don't know of others who also suffer from it.  This web site is not a substitute for a thorough medical evaluation and diagnosis of your vaso-vagal type symptoms.  Medical treatment and diagnosis is the only acceptable initial response to these serious symptoms since they might present from any number of life threatening and treatable illnesses.  It is for you and your physician to rule out more serious illnesses; Please don't use this online forum as an alternative to getting responsible medical attention and being under the care of a physician for the duration of any unknown, suspected vaso-vagal syndrome symptoms. If other, more serious causes are ruled out, it still doesn't mean you are making too much of your symptoms or that they are all in your "head." Vaso-vagal syndrome like symptoms could be a virus or any number of other transient physiological conditions that don't kill you but inconvenience (and scare Hell)  out of you.

I'm afraid that's all I know to this point but I am interested to read what your experiences with this condition have been.

John J. Herr, Ph.D.