I have swallow syncope and it can cause death! About 20 years ago I started passing out while eating. In the beginning it did not happen frequently but it was spooky enough that I did see a neurologist. He correctly diagnosed that I was having a vaso vagal response while swallowing. He wanted me to have a barium swallow to make sure nothing serious, like cancer, was going on in my throat. My throat was normal. I grew to just accept that I had this weird condition and lived my life accordingly. I found that quickly swallowing some water would push the food past the trigger spot and would prevent me from fainting (syncope). The last time I fainted while eating was about 10 years ago.
I talked with doctors about this condition several times but none diagnosed it as swallow syncope and I finally diagnosed it myself a few years ago when I went to see an endoscopist who acted like I was crazy when I told him what was going on. Thankfully, I did not have him do an endoscopy on my throat, but was so disturbed by his reaction that I came home and started researching on the Internet. There it was, "Swallow syncope". I had an A-fib just before this time and while at the hospital and after they cardio converted me back into normal sinus rhythm, I was eating a sandwich. I felt nothing, but suddenly there were a bunch of medical people in my room very alarmed that my heart was skipping beats. I told them that it was just something that happened while I was eating and that seemed to satisfy them. After the hospital A-fib thing I wore a heart monitor for 21 days and during that time, while eating, apparently my heart paused again. I still thought it was just me doing my weird thing.
Then on 12/17/2010 I was home by myself and reading in my husband's chair. Lunch time came, I got up and got a bite to eat and then I noticed that it seemed like everything got really quiet. It was like being in a room when the clock suddenly stops ticking. I felt like my life force was draining out through my feet. My first thought was that my husband was going to come home from surfing and find me dead in his chair. I took several deep breaths as I could not remember the last time I breathed. Then I thought I just had to get up out of that chair. I am a very strong woman who swims seriously 3 times a week and does an endurance cardio class twice a week. It took me 3 tries to get out of that chair. The last time I gave it every bit of strength I had and made it up. Then my legs were folded and I could not stand up straight and ended up hanging onto the tops of furniture to walk across the living room. I was nauseous and barely made it to the kitchen sink where I vomited violently several times. I told a friend of mine who is a doctor about this and she said it sounded like sudden death. I heard later that vomiting is one of the best ways to start a heart that has stopped. At the time I did not know what was going on. I thought stroke, food poisoning.....? However, I was able to eat a little that evening and slept well. The next night I could not sleep at all and figured it out in my head. Then in the morning I got on the Internet and really looked at the swallow syncope stuff and found that sometimes it can cause a complete AV block, thus being potentially fatal. I went to my doctor a couple of days later. He had never heard of swallow syncope, but knew it must have been a vaso vagal reaction. He sent me to a cardiologist who told me she had to research it before she saw me as she had never seen it before. I was given another heart monitor and within 3 days while eating a sandwich I recorded an 8 second pause of my heart. This got my cardiologist's attention. She and I figured the pause I had in December was probably a 15 to 30 second pause with maybe a few flutters in between. I ended up having a pacemaker implanted and as far as I know have not had any more pauses. I think if I had not been able to get out of that chair I might not be here today. Also, I think this condition is more common that the medical profession knows. When I did get an endoscopy after the pacemaker implantation (It is not a wise thing to get an endoscopy before a pacemaker as you could have pausing while on the table), the endoscopist knew of swallow syncope and told me that Mama Cass did indeed die of swallow syncope. So, if you are fainting while eating it could be very serious.