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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Crossing Legs Helps Frequent Fainters

Muscle-Tensing Exercises Reduce Risk of Swooning by 1/3, Study Shows
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 13, 2006 (Atlanta) -- If you feel like you're about to faint, try crossing your legs or making a fist.

That's the advice of Dutch researchers who found that simple muscle-tensing exercises such as these can help keep you on your feet.

In a 14-month study of 223 people aged 16 to 70 with a history of fainting spells, the exercises reduced the risk of having an episode by more than one-third.

Also, the drop in the number of people who fainted was seen in a condition doctors call vasovagal syncope, says researcher Nynke van Dijk, MD, a clinical epidemiologist at Academic Medical Center-University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Any number of triggers, such as the sight of blood or being in a crowded, warm situation, can cause fainting. Heart rate and blood pressure drop, blood pools in the lower body, and you collapse.

Exercises Ward Off Impending Attacks

"Muscle-tensing exercises return pooled blood from the legs to the heart and then the head," says Nieca Goldberg, MD, chief of women's cardiac care at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and an American Heart Association spokeswoman.

"All people who suffer from frequent fainting episodes should be taught to perform the exercises at the first signs of an impending attack," she tells WebMD.

So how do you know if you're about to faint? "You often feel yourself getting a little warm or perhaps nauseous," she says. Other signs may include lightheadedness, sweating, blurred vision, and rapid breathing.

Avoiding Triggers Also Sound Advice

For the study, all the frequent fainters were given conventional therapy, consisting of education and lifestyle modification. "We explained the disorder, told them to drink a lot of water, gave lifestyle advice, and told them to avoid triggers," van Dijk says.

Half the participants were also offered so-called physical counterpressure training in three techniques: leg-crossing, handgrip exercises, and arm-tensing exercises.

"The exercises are very simple; for example, hand grips just require that a person firmly puts their hand together or grab a bowl," van Dijk says.

The participants were instructed to employ the preventive techniques whenever they felt a swoon coming on.

The study was presented here at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology.

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