Fainting is a brief loss of consciousness due to a drop in blood flow to the brain. The episode lasts less than a couple of minutes and you recover from it quickly and completely. The medical name for fainting is syncope.
What Causes Fainting?
Fainting may have a variety of causes. A simple episode, also called avasovagal attack or neurally-mediated syncope, is the most common type of fainting spell. It is most common in children and young adults. A vasovagal attack happens because blood pressure drops, reducing circulation to the brain and causing loss of consciousness. Typically an attack occurs while standing and is frequently preceded by a sensation of warmth, nausea, lightheadedness and visual “grayout.” If the syncope is prolonged, it can trigger a seizure.
You may suffer from a simple fainting spell due to anxiety, fear, pain, intense emotional stress, hunger, or use of alcohol or drugs. Most people who suffer from simple fainting have no underlying heart or neurological (nerve or brain) problem.
Some people have a problem with the way their body regulates their blood pressure, particularly when they move too quickly from a lying or sitting position to a standing position. This condition is called postural hypotension and may be severe enough to cause fainting. This type of fainting is more common in the elderly, people who recently had a lengthy illness that kept them in bed and people who have poor muscle tone.
Types of Fainting
There are several types of syncope (fainting). The following list includes three common types:
- Vasovagal syncope can be triggered by emotional trauma, stress, the sight of blood, or standing for a long period of time.
- Carotid sinus syncope happens when the carotid artery in the neck is constricted, usually after turning your head to one side or wearing a collar that’s too tight.
- Situational syncope occurs due to straining while coughing, urinating, moving your bowels, or having gastrointestinal problems.
Fainting can have no medical significance, or the cause can be a serious disorder. Therefore, treat loss of consciousness as a medical emergency until the signs and symptoms are relieved and the cause is known. Discuss recurrent fainting spells with your doctor.
If you feel Faint
- Lie down or sit down. To reduce the chance of fainting again, don’t get up too quickly.
- Place your head between your knees if you sit down.
If someone else Faints
- Position the person on his or her back. If the person is breathing, restore blood flow to the brain by raising the person’s legs above heart level about 12 inches (30 centimeters) if possible. Loosen belts, collars or other constrictive clothing. To reduce the chance of fainting again, don’t get the person up too quickly. If the person doesn’t regain consciousness within one minute, call 911 or your local emergency number.
- Check the person’s airway to be sure it’s clear. Watch for vomiting.
- Check for signs of circulation (breathing, coughing or movement). If absent, begin CPR. Call 911 or your local emergency number. Continue CPR until help arrives or the person responds and begins to breathe.
If the person was injured in a fall associated with a faint, treat any bumps, bruises or cuts appropriately. Control bleeding with direct pressure.
Symptoms of Fainting
The symptoms of a faint include:
- A pale face
- Heightened anxiety and restlessness
- Unconsciousness, for a few seconds
- Full recovery after a few minutes.
Occasionally, a collapse may be caused by a more serious event such as a stroke or a disturbance in the normal heart rhythm. A faint might be telling you something is wrong and further examination is sometimes important.
If a person complains of breathlessness, chest pains or heart palpitations, or if the pulse is faster or slower than expected, the person should see a doctor. Similarly, slurred speech, facial droop or weakness in any limbs are signs of a serious problem.
Home Care for Fainting
If you have a history of fainting, follow your doctor’s instructions for how to prevent fainting. For example, if you know the situations that cause you to faint, avoid or change them.
Get up from a lying or seated position slowly. If having blood drawn makes you faint, tell your health care provider before having a blood test and make sure that you are lying down when the test is done.
You can take immediate treatment steps when someone has fainted:
- Check the person’s airway and breathing. If necessary, call 911 and begin rescue breathing and CPR.
- Loosen tight clothing around the neck.
- Raise the person’s feet above the level of the heart (about 12 inches).
- If the person has vomited, turn onto his or her side to prevent choking.
- Keep the person lying down for at least 10 to 15 minutes, preferably in a cool and quiet space. If this is not possible, sit the person forward with the head between the knees.
Treatment for Fainting
Treatment for fainting will depend on your doctor’s diagnosis. If there are no underlying medical conditions that are causing you to faint, you generally won’t need treatment and the long-term outlook is good.