How I Stopped Passing Out From Needles
The most unlikely hack…
When I was around 21, I went to the doctor for a routine vaccination. Everything went as expected — I got the injection and was waiting to pay at the front desk. Next thing I knew, I was staring up at a stranger who was asking me if I was OK. I mumbled something and quickly realized I was lying on the floor with my head in his hands — I had fainted.
Once cognizant of the situation, I immediately felt embarrassed. Children get needles all the time and don’t pass out — what a friggin’ wimp. After a minute, I insisted I was fine (although still woozy) and got the hell out of there.
I immediately began researching why this might’ve happened. Needles had never bothered me more than the typical discomfort. In fact, I got weekly allergy injections when I was younger without any issues.
After some research, I learned this actually had nothing to do with fear or being tough. It was actually a common condition called vasovagal syncope, which is the body’s overreaction to certain triggers that can result in fainting. In my case and many others, the trigger is receiving injections.
Fair enough, so how do I deal with this? I scoured through articles and forums finding scores of people with the same condition. The triggers varied, everything from getting a needle to passing out after urinating. Either way, it appeared to be the same underlying cause.
There was some baseline advice that was commonly suggested — eat something, stay hydrated and breath deeply. These seemed valid but were more supporting actions than complete solutions. I followed those suggestions for the next few injections and, despite being hydrated with a full belly, I passed out everytime.
Something was missing…
Being an analytical person, I needed to understand the biological reason behind this so I could make my own conclusions. Any excerpt from a Mayo Clinic articles declares:
The vasovagal syncope trigger causes your heart rate and blood pressure to drop suddenly. That leads to reduced blood flow to your brain, causing you to briefly lose consciousness.
OK…so the underlying problem is a drop in heart rate and blood pressure. Ironically, the very last thing I was normally told before getting an injection was…just relax. Seems logical: puncturing flesh is a stressful event for the body so staying relaxed should offset that stress. Plus, it would be hard to administer a needle to someone who is freaking out. Under normal circumstances, this appeared to be good advice.
However, for those of us who are prone to vasovagal syncope, it turns out to be detrimental advice. As would be expected, relaxing lowers the heart rate and blood pressure. Great but…as discussed earlier, the vasovagal trigger also causes the heart rate and blood pressure to drop fast enough to cause fainting. By relaxing, you are not countering the effects of the trigger but accelerating them. In fact, the more relaxed you are prior to a vasovagal trigger, the faster you will likely pass out.
So what the solution?
Ironically, the solution is to manually raise your heart rate and blood pressure prior to the trigger event. The best way I could find to do this is by tensing your muscles as much as possible prior to, during and after getting an injection. In theory, this keeps your pressure up to counter the potential drop caused by the injection.
Honestly, this sounded far-fetched to me. It was the complete opposite of what I’d been told all my life by the very professionals who had given these injections all day long. However, I had nothing to lose by giving it a shot (no pun intended).
Amazingly, it worked!
Here’s the steps I’ve followed since then with almost 100% success:
- Eat but don’t overeat before the expected injection time. I don’t find it matters what you eat, just avoid an empty stomach.
- Stay hydrated — water does the trick for me but sports drinks with sodium and potassium could also work.
- Ask to lie down during the injection, if possible. It’s perfectly OK to be honest with the nurse or doctor about your issue — don’t worry about trying to be tough, that’s not the issue. This is a training wheel that you can remove as you get better but use everything to your advantage until you can re-train your body’s response.
- Tense the muscles in your body in the minutes before, during and after the injection. Don’t stay tense the entire time — taking short breaks in between will be enough to keep your blood pressure up. If you are asked to relax the area of injection (e.g. arm), relax only that area and tense up the rest of your body as best you can. This not only keeps your pressure up but gives your mind something to concentrate on other than the needle.
- Don’t get up right away, even if you feel fine. As I experienced the first time I fainted, the vasovagal reflex can trigger on a delay. Just take it slow — ask for some juice and continue bouts of tensing letting up a bit at a time.
If you are getting an injection that requires fasting, don’t worry about 1 and 2 as they are more helpful than required. The last steps have proven far more important in my experience.
Keep in mind, I’m suggesting a short-term rise of your blood pressure meant for a purpose. Don’t go eating a diet that causes chronic high-blood pressure as that will probably kill you eventually.
I can’t promise this will be a magic bullet for everyone but it helped me immensely. Some injections have gone better than others since, but it is something I can turn to when needed. It surely beats the complete helpless feeling that can accompany this condition. Best of luck!
Disclaimer: This article is based on my own research and experience. I am not a medical professional and do not consider this professional medical advice. I do not believe anything suggested is risky for an otherwise healthy person. Please use your own judgement when following any advice I’ve provided.