As a rule, the main types of disturbances that we feel as humans that present to the clinician as one form of dizzy feeling or another, are vertigo: a sense of spinning; disequilibrium: a sense of imbalance; or dizziness: a feeling of being off, or disoriented. Dizziness is the vaguest of the symptoms. Let’s talk about it this week.
Dizziness is in the top three reasons why individuals present to their doctors office. It is often a confusing constellation of symptoms which patients find difficult to describe, and clinicians find difficult to diagnose.
Oftentimes, vertigo and disequilibrium will manifest such that the patient would complain to the clinician about dizziness. It is up to the clinician to ask the right questions to discern between them to correctly diagnose the patient and refer to the appropriate specialist for neurologic or vestibular rehabilitation therapy, (what I do), vs. to an ENT for a sinus infection or similar.
So what then is Presyncope? Well, syncope, means in medical terminology to pass out. So presyncope is the sensation just before passing out, without progressing into actually passing out. Most patients with presyncope will be referred to a cardiologist, assuming of course that they were even correctly diagnosed in the first place, which is not necessarily always the case. This is not a bad plan as it rules out any cardiac problems as being causative, however, the patient gets cleared from cardiology and is still symptomatic.
Well here’s the deal. Syncope/presyncope is almost always a neurologic condition. Yes, it is caused by the heart, however, the heart only does what the brain is telling it to do. To make some sense of this, imagine you are standing up. Your heart has to pump blood up to your head sort of like a small water tower. Now imagine lying down. As blood gushes into your head, baroreceptors in the carotid vessels tell your brain to tell you heart to slow down so you don’t shoot your head off. Conversely, when you arise from lying down, your carotid baroreceptors tell your brain to tell your heart it had better pick up and fast to get blood back up to your brain, (like a water tower again). When there is a problem with this regulatory system, you are going to experience presyncope. As this problem worsens, you will actually experience syncope, (actually passing out). The irony to all of this is that this is actually very easily fixed more often than not; these are the types of problems that I spend much of my day fixing for people. As syncopal problems worsen, it is not uncommon for simple head movements or turns, or visual stimulus from driving to provoke an attack. This also often precipitates into panic disorder and panic attacks, not only because of the fear and anxiety associated with the symptoms, but also because of the sympathetic nervous system and its hard wiring. (The whole “fight-fright-flight thing you learned in school).
Again, there are many causes of dizziness and presyncope is just one of them, but it is a fairly common problem and finding the right specialist early on can make a big difference in how far your symptoms will progress and whether or not they will progress into other conditions over time until properly treated.