The first time I experienced Swallow Syncope I was completely taken by surprise. My husband and I were sitting in a restaurant having breakfast and the next thing I knew I had blacked out. Luckily we were seated in a booth so I did not fall off my chair or hurt myself. I was confused and at the time had no idea what happened.
I went to the doctor and was sent for all kinds of tests which showed nothing wrong. I have been to a cardiologist, gastroenterologist, and a neuralogist. All tests came back normal and none could figure out why swallowing was suddenly causing me to black out.
It does not happen all the time or even once a week but I still have episodes where I feel it coming on. Since that first time, I learned to recognize the sign that I was feeling like I was going to faint and if I breathe deeply I do not actually black out completely. I still see pretty serious stars but can maintain consciousness.
Apparently there is a nerve that runs down the body called the vagus nerve. This nerve plays a part in heart rate, blood pressure and many other things. It runs down near the esophagus and for people with swallow syncope, if something is swallowed it can stimulate the nerve and the result is either partially or fully blacking out.
Passing out while swallowing is vasovagal response with the trigger being swallowing. When someone passes out the vagus nerve which controls heart rate and blood pressure, sends a faulty message that causes the heart rate and blood pressure to slow. The lack of blood to the brain causes a black out.
Soon after a person blacks out from a vasovagal response, things return to normal. I do not have any lasting effects and can go on with my day after an episode. Because I know that blacking out is a possibility while eating I am careful where I sit while eating and never eat while I drive.
Here is a good explanation of the vasovagal response that happens from a variety of triggers, swallowing being only one. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasovagal_response
Even with all those doctors appointments I never got a real diagnosis and did not really figure out what was happening until President W. Bush had an incident that was reported as “choking on a pretzel” You may recall this shortly after he took office he blacked out while eating a pretzel.
Along with the news report was an explanation of what happened and the name Swallow Syncope. Syncope just means passing out, with swallowing being the trigger. Here is something from USA Today that describes what happened http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/washington/jan02/2002-01-13-bush-faint.htm
It is important to note that no real choking occurs as this happens after you have already swallowed your food. For me it happens most often if I am eating something hard or bulky like a piece of bread.
Some people have swallow syncope that is so frequent that they will black out just from swallowing liquid. People with frequent symptoms like this can get help with a pacemaker.http://www.webmd.com/brain/news/20081218/sandwiches-make-woman-get-pacemaker
I have had swallow syncope for well over 10 years and so far it is infrequent and while it requires that I am cautious about what I do while eating, it has not adversely affected my life or health.
Originally published at Bubblews on Oct 8th under the Title: Swallow Syncope – Fainting or Passing Out while Eating and Swallowing by Becky Brooks