A recent study published in JACC: Clinical Electrophysiology assessed driving safety among patients affected by vasovagal syncope—one of the most common causes of fainting. Vasovagal syncope occurs when a trigger like stress causes a sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure, leading to a brief loss of consciousness.
Not surprisingly, driving is a potential concern for patients affected by fainting. Sudden loss of consciousness while driving could cause a car accident, posing a threat to both the driver and those around him. However, few studies have accurately estimated the risk of car accidents among patients with frequent fainting episodes.
As a result, researchers analyzed data from two Prevention of Syncope Trials conducted at multiple sites between 1998 and 2011. These trials tested two potential treatments for syncope, following more than 400 patients with syncope for roughly 9 months. On average, patients were 38 years old and had at least three fainting spells in their lifetime to qualify for the trial.
During the study period, there were a total of 615 fainting episodes. Among these, only two patients fainted while driving, neither of which episode resulting in injury or fatality. After analysis, researchers found that the risk of serious harm or death from car accidents among patients with syncope was less than 0.0035%. This risk is actually less than that of the general population in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Based on study findings, authors conclude that patients with frequent fainting episodes are safe to drive with minimal restrictions. In fact, estimated risk of car accidents is even lower in patients with vasovagal syncope than the general population. According to experts, this low level of risk falls comfortably within current safe driving guidelines for heart patients.
However, experts also point out the need for further research on the issue. This study was relatively small, and as authors explain, larger studies are needed to provide more precise estimates of risk. Also, the study only included patients with moderately frequent fainting episodes (at least three or more in a lifetime). Driving may be riskier in patients that faint more often, highlighting the need for additional research in this population.