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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fainting and Swooning In the Post-Presley Era

WASHINGTON -- One of the most peculiar public health hazards in the post-Presley world -- epidemic swooning at rock concerts -- is a phenomenon familiar to legions of adolescents. Their parents may be less aware of the threat, which has barely engaged the attention of modern science despite decades of documentation that many a fan is literally prone to unconsciousness.


Concerned that the mechanism of mass fainting has been "neglected in the medical literature," two intrepid German physicians have braved a concert by pop heartthrobs New Kids on the Block and worked with first-aid staff at a Red Cross infirmary where the stricken were treated.


According to the doctors' report in Thursday's issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, some 400 concert-goers fainted, all of them girls aged 11 to 17. Researchers Thomas Lempert and Martin Bauer interviewed 40 of the victims, and found that they fell into two general groups. Forty percent had lost consciousness entirely -- the classic fainting condition known as syncope -- whereas the rest had become faint but remained alert, if distraught.


Based on their observations, Bauer and Lempert discerned a "multifactorial pathophysiology of rock-concert syncope," a phenomenon certainly as old as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and the Beatles, but possibly long predating rock 'n' roll since the symptoms apparently have less to do with the musical genre than the state of the fans.


Fainting is a temporary loss of consciousness caused by insufficient oxygen in the brain, and can be brought on by a variety of circumstances. In the case of these fans, the researchers found at least five likely causes:


?"sleeplessness during the previous night," perhaps from the thrill of anticipation;


?"fasting from early in the morning, when they had first lined up," causing low blood sugar;


?"a long period of standing," which reduces cerebral blood flow by causing blood to pool in the legs;


?"hyperventilation, which leads to cerebral vasoconstriction" -- that is, heavy breathing that produces narrowing of blood vessels that supply the brain; and


?abnormal pressure within the chest "induced either by screaming or reflexively by external compression of the thorax by the pushing masses."


"Notably," the researchers write, "most cases of syncope occurred in girls standing next to the stage."The 60 percent of girls who did not faint outright experienced panic attacks from being squashed in the mob or from hyperventilation, which can reduce carbon-dioxide levels in the bloodstream, thus making the blood more alkaline and inducing faintness, among other symptoms.


Lempert and Bauer suggest the following guidelines for at-risk concert-goers: "Sleep, eat, sit, keep cool and stay out of the crowd. But what teenage fan will do that?"