Medical Definition of Gower syndrome (situational syncope)

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Gower syndrome (situational syncope): The temporary loss of consciousness in particular kinds of situations. (Syncope is temporary loss of consciousness or, in plain English, fainting). The situations that trigger this reaction are diverse and include having blood drawn, straining while urinating or defecating or coughing. The reaction also can be due to the emotional stress of fear or pain.

With Gower syndrome, people often become pale and feel nauseated, sweaty, and weak just before they lose consciousness.

Gower syndrome is caused by a reflex of the involuntary nervous system called the vasovagal reaction. The vasovagal reaction leads the heart to slow down (bradycardia) and, at the same time, it leads the nerves to the blood vessels in the legs to permit those vessels to dilate (widen). The result is that the heart puts out less blood, the blood pressure drops, and what blood is circulating tends to go into the legs rather than to the head. The brain is deprived of oxygen and the fainting episode occurs.

A vasovagal reaction is also called a vasovagal attack. Gower syndrome is synonymous with situational syncope, vasovagal syncope, and vasodepressor syncope. Sir William Richard Gower (1845-1915) was a famous English neurologist whose name is also associated with a sign, a solution, another syndrome, and a tract in the central nervous system.

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Reviewed on 12/27/2018

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