It can be particularly dangerous when the elderly faints. But did you know that the cause of unexplained fainting spells may be in the veins?
Fainting spells can be especially troubling in older adults, particularly if the episode leads to a serious fall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates roughly 36 million adults age 65 and older fall each year, resulting in injury and more than 32,000 deaths.
Several conditions may cause fainting, including heart problems, a sudden drop in blood pressure, dehydration, exhaustion, or stress. A study done in Italy discovered that seniors hospitalized for fainting episodes had a pulmonary embolism (PE), or a dangerous blood clot in the lungs. While researchers caution that a PE may not necessarily cause a fainting spell, doctors should consider this when determining why a senior fainted to ensure proper treatment.
The Connection Between Vein Health and Blood Clots
Blood clots that travel to the lungs and cause a PE typically start in the leg veins. Blood circulates throughout the body via a network of arteries and veins. Arteries push oxygenated blood to the organs and tissues, the veins return the blood to the heart with the aid of small valves that shut tight and push the blood upward. When those valves weaken, blood tends to backslide and collect within the veins, leading to varicose veins. The pools blood can also cause a clot to form, known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). If the DVT blood clot breaks off and lodges in the lung, a potentially life-threatening PE may occur.
People over age 60 have a higher risk of blood clots because they are generally less active than younger people. Lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle hinders proper circulation, which subsequently allows blood to clot. Seniors can also develop clots due to extended hospital stays for other illnesses or injuries.
DVT symptoms may not be apparent at first. Unfortunately, the person may not experience leg swelling, pain, tenderness, and discolored patches of skin on the leg until a blood clot grows. Other symptoms could include shortness of breath, sharp pain when breathing, rapid pulse, bloody cough, and dizziness, all of which may cause a senior to faint. These symptoms require immediate medical intervention.
If the clot is diagnosed in the legs, treatment with blood thinners or other methods can prevent the clot from moving to the lungs and cause a PE.
Preventing Blood Clots
Clot-dissolving medications are usually given once a clot is diagnosed through an ultrasound. A wire filter called an Inferior Vena Cava, or IVC, may be placed in the vein to block a clot from traveling to the lungs. These methods are usually performed when the clot causes acute symptoms. However, you can take measures to prevent a blood clot from forming by following these tips:
Exercise. Simply walking for 30 minutes a day encourages blood to circulate in the legs. By engaging your calf muscles, you’re supporting the leg veins in pumping blood to the heart.
Elevate Your Legs. Propping your legs on a pillow for 20 to 30 minutes each day forces blood to move in the right direction to your heart.
Wear Compression Stockings. Made of tightly woven elastic, compression stockings gently squeeze the veins to promote blood flow. Compression stockings are recommended for athletes, pregnant women, or people who sit or stand for long periods.
Maintain Your Ideal Weight. Obesity is a risk factor for blood clots. Maintaining your weight at an ideal level relieves pressure from the veins and permits blood to flow freely. In addition to exercise, ask your doctor about a weight management program.
Take Care of Your Veins
Vein health is important at any age, but it’s especially vital for older adults who are susceptible to vascular disorders such as blood clots. Center for Vein Restoration operates three clinics in the Atlanta area. Three experienced vein specialists oversee each: Dr. James Fonger, MD, FRCS, is board-certified in general surgery and cardiovascular surgery. Dr. Keith S. Moore, MD, is board-certified in general surgery, and Dr. Louis Prevosti, MD, FACS, is board-certified in thoracic and cardiovascular surgery. Dr. Fonger and Dr. Prevosti are diplomates of the American Board of Venous and Lymphatic Medicine (ABVLM). Contact their offices today for a consultation.
Northside Center Pointe
1100 Johnson Ferry Road NE
Atlanta, GA 30342
Camp Creek Medical Center
3886 Princeton Lakes Way
Atlanta, GA 30331
Gwinnett Professional Center
601 Professional Drive
Lawrenceville, GA 30046