Fainting, syncope or blacking out with brief loss of consciousness and muscle tone may seem like harmless “swooning” but it is important to have a medical diagnosis to learn the cause of it and what to do about it. Some conditions that cause fainting need medical treatment and it is important to take steps to prevent injury from falling. Recurrent fainting should be discussed with a doctor.
What Fainting is:
Oxygen and glucose carried to the brain by the flow of blood keep the reticular activating system in the brain and one or both brain hemispheres functioning. This is necessary for a person to be awake. Disruption of oxygen-carrying blood flow can cause fainting or syncope. A person may experience weakness or nausea just prior to fainting and will have paling of color in the face. Sounds may seem to be distant or fading away when they are about to faint.
Events That Can Cause Fainting:
There are many events that can cause brief or prolonged disruption of blood flow to the brain. Some of these include activities as simple as straining while urinating or with a bowel movement, coughing very hard, or even with standing in one place for a very long time. Being suddenly startled, fear, emotional distress and severe pain, as well as a sudden change in position, dehydration or a sudden drop in blood pressure can cause fainting.
Some medications that are known to sometimes cause a sudden drop in blood pressure and result in fainting are medications for nasal congestion and allergies, high blood pressure and anxiety. Drug or alcohol use and low blood sugar are other common causes of fainting.
One of the most common causes of fainting is called vasovagal syncope, a result of the disruption of balance between the chemicals adrenaline and acetylcholine. Adrenaline stimulation increases heartbeat and blood pressure which causes blood vessels to narrow. Increased release of acetylcholine causes the heart rate to slow, blood vessels to dilate and less blood is pumped to the brain. A vasovagal episode is the result of this temporary decrease in blood flow to the brain. Some people often experience fainting or syncope at the sight of blood, having blood drawn or when getting shots.
Serious causes of fainting include, but are not limited to, abnormal heart rhythm, abnormal heart structural or valve conditions, heart attack and stroke. These conditions are more likely to be found in older people than in younger people.
What to do when someone Faints:
A doctor should be consulted the first time fainting occurs for diagnosis and instruction. Loss of consciousness is not normal and falling when one goes unconscious can cause injury. The person’s blood glucose, blood pressure and heart rhythm may be temporarily abnormal, but usually returns to normal within 20 minutes. It is important to know what to do if someone faints and to determine if further medical assistance is needed.
A person is usually unaware that he/she has fainted and fallen to the ground until afterward. A bit of confusion may accompany the first few seconds of returning to normal and they may not hear or understand you well for a short time. It is important to try to keep them from getting up too quickly since this could cause them to faint again.
If someone you know or a family member faints and the reason for fainting is known, the doctor has probably given instructions on how to take care of them. If the person is not known, there are still some steps to take to help them. Position the person on his/her back if there has been no vomiting. With vomiting, turn them on their side to avoid choking or aspiration. Check the airway and breathing. If necessary, call 911 and begin rescue breathing and CPR. If the person is breathing well, raise the feet about 12 inches (above the level of the heart) and loosen tight fitting clothing around the neck.
If the person complains of chest pain or other severe pain, call 911 or your local emergency number for immediate medical help, especially in older people as this may be a sign of heart attack or other heart problems. If it is not possible for the person to lie down, sit the person forward and place their head between their knees. Do not allow the person to fall forward and become injured. Keep the person sitting or lying down for at least 10 to 15 minutes and then help him/her to rise slowly after returning to normal to prevent fainting again. If the person was injured from a fall with the fainting episode, treat their injuries appropriately and control bleeding with direct pressure until help arrives.
Many fainting spells are not medically significant and the person should fully recover physically and mentally in a short time, but would still benefit from help until full recovery occurs. It is always appropriate to call for emergency medical help if in doubt. Loss of consciousness is not normal and care should be given with every episode of syncope. “Fainting: First aid” – mayoclinic.com, written by Mayo Clinic Staff gives information on taking care of someone who has fainted.
Follow the doctor’s instructions to try to prevent fainting spells, blacking out or loss of consciousness. If fainting spells begin to occur more frequently, or if there are any new signs and symptoms when they occur, be sure to report those changes to a physician. The new signs and symptoms may or may not be of any great medical significance but it is best to be sure.
“Fainting: First Aid” Mayo Clinic Staff: Accessed October 13, 2013
Fainting: Accessed October 13, 2013