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Article: Exercises can prevent fainting

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ATLANTA (AP) - Feeling faint? Cross your ankles. Squeeze your knees. Grip a ball. Simple muscle-tensing exercises like these can keep you from passing out, say researchers who did a scientific study of the problem.

Lots of people have fainted at least once in their life, usually with little consequence other than embarrassment.

But for some, it's a frequent occurrence that is especially dangerous if it happens while they are driving or if they have jobs like piloting airplanes.

"If they have one episode during a flight, they have a problem," said Dr. Nynke van Dijk of the University of Amsterdam, who led the study with financing from the Netherlands Heart Foundation and presented results at a meeting of heart doctors in Atlanta.

Exercise has many benefits, but this is the first scientific study testing specific techniques for fainting.

"They are very cheap, have no known side effects as far as we know and are very easy to teach patients," she said.

Fainting is a reflex that can be triggered by stress, dehydration, low blood pressure, certain medications and many other factors. The heart strenuously contracts, the heart rate falls and blood pressure drops. Blood drains from the head and pools in the abdomen, causing the patient to lose consciousness and collapse.

"It's a very common complaint in doctors' offices," and a problem that many patients find frightening, said Dr. Matthew Wolff, cardiology chief at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Van Dijk and fellow scientists wanted to see if people who feel a fainting spell coming on could do exercises to raise blood pressure and abort it.

They studied 223 frequent fainters ages 16 to 70. About half were given the usual counseling about avoiding stress and other triggers of fainting and increasing salt and water intake to raise their blood pressure.

Others were taught three exercises:

- Leg crossing, at the ankles while squeezing the thighs together and tensing abdominal muscles.

- Hand gripping, by interlocking fingertips and pulling arms in opposite directions.

- Arm tensing, by rhythmically squeezing a soft ball while also tensing thighs and abs.

Over the next 14 months, about one-third of those taught the exercises had a fainting spell compared with half of those who weren't taught the muscle-tensing methods.

People who learned the exercises actually described using them to cut short a spell of lightheadedness, van Dijk said.

She taught her patients the exercises in half an hour, and said many variations are possible - tighten your thighs and butt "like dancing the tango," she recommended.

"The stuff really works," and doesn't involve drugs or any risk, said Dr. James Stein, another University of Wisconsin cardiologist.

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I think that a lot of us who have had POTS for a while already do those maneuvers automatically, which is why lots of us don't actually pass out unless we are strapped to a tilt table and can't do many of those compensatory maneuvers. One of my doctors showed me once that one of my "bad habits" (sitting hunched forward and with my legs crossed) actually boosts my systolic blood pressure by about 10 mm Hg. No wonder the temptation to sit that way was so irresistable.

One useful maneuver they didn't mention in the article. If you get badly lightheaded from standing up too fast, tilt your head forward until your chin hits your chest. I learned that one from a retired nurse.

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Yeh thats so true... i find myself going up and down on my toes to try and make the blood flow plus standing with my feet crossed and the foot thats behind kind of horizontal which keeps me steady. One doc put it down to bad posture but i think it actually helps me keep upright..

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Mayo's docs presented information on "counter maneuvers" to prevent fainting a few years back. I used to have links that included photos of how to position oneself, but can't find them anymore. Anyway, just wanted to share that it sounds like the Dutch group replicated the original Mayo study.


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