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Overview of Fainting

Fainting or syncope is the sudden loss of consciousness most often caused by a temporary decrease in oxygen and blood flow to the brain.1 Fainting may arise on a neurological, cardiac (structural heart disease) or neurovascular background.2 Most of the time, fainting, particularly in children is not due to a life-threatening or serious cause. It may be provoked by fear, pain, heat stress or low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Although fainting can be of no medical significance, it must be treated as a medical emergency until the signs and symptoms are relieved and the cause is known.

Heart conditions that can cause fainting include abnormalities of the heart valves, increased blood pressure in the arteries supplying blood to the lungs (pulmonary artery hypertension) and disease of the heart muscle. The noncardiac causes include postural hypotension, stress and emotional upset, dehydration, use of blood pressure medications, diseases of the nerves to the legs or diabetes. Fainting is also seen after situational events such as after urination, defecation or coughing (vasovagal syncope). Most often, fainting may be accompanied by impending syncopal symptoms such as light-headedness, nausea, sweating, weakness and visual disturbances.3

Syncope is more common in older persons than in any other age group. Age-related physiologic changes, a higher prevalence of chronic illness and concomitant intake of multiple medication account for a higher susceptibility of elderly patients to syncope.4 Recovery from fainting is usually followed by almost immediate return of appropriate behavior and orientation. Sometimes the post-recovery period may be marked by fatigue.3

First Aid of Fainting

When someone faints:

  • Make the person lie down on his or her back. Elevate the legs above the heart level.
  • Loosen or remove any tight clothing.
  • Ensure the individual gets plenty of fresh air.
  • Check airway, breathing and pulse. Begin CPR, if needed.
  • If patient has vomited, put in recovery position to prevent choking.
  • If the person was injured due to fall associated with the faint, treat any bumps, bruises or cuts accordingly. Control bleeding with direct pressure.
  • There is usually a full recovery when laid flat. If this does not occur, seek immediate medical help.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Avoid feeding orally.
  • Avoid gagging or putting anything in mouth.
  • In order to prevent fainting, avoid getting dehydrated, prolonged standing and/or hot confining environments.
  • Take care of the underlying medical conditions.
  • If you can anticipate a fainting spell in a child, make sure the child does not hit his or her head, as he or she falls to the floor.
  • Reassure and educate the person regarding the condition.


1.Kapoor WN. Syncope. N Engl J Med. 2000; 343(25): 1856–1862.

2.Mehlsen J, Mehlsen AB. Diagnosis and treatment of syncope. Ugeskr Laeger. 2008; 170(9): 718–723. Danish.

3.Brignole M, Alboni P, Benditt DG, Bergfeldt L, Blanc JJ, Bloch Thomsen PE, et al. Task Force on Syncope, European Society of Cardiology. Guidelines on management (diagnosis and treatment) of syncope--update 2004. Europace. 2004; 6(6): 467–537.

4.Geller JC, Reek S, Klein HU. Syncope in the elderly. Dtsch Med Wochenschr. 2005; 130(12): 717–720 (Article in German).

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Written by: healthplus24 team
Date last updated: May 02, 2015

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