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Fainting

Passed out; Lightheadedness - fainting; Syncope; Vasovagal episode

Fainting is a brief loss of consciousness due to a drop in blood flow to the brain. The episode most often lasts less than a couple of minutes and you usually recover from it quickly. The medical name for fainting is syncope.

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Considerations

When you faint, you not only lose consciousness, you also lose muscle tone and the color in your face. Before fainting, you may feel weak and nauseated. You may have the sense that your vision is constricting (tunnel vision) or noises are fading into the background.

Causes

Fainting may occur while or after you:

Fainting can also be related to:

Other causes of fainting:

Less common but more serious reasons for fainting include heart disease (such as abnormal heart rhythm or heart attack) and stroke. These conditions are more likely in people over age 65.

Home Care

If you have a history of fainting, follow your health care provider'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 provider before having a blood test. Make sure that you are lying down when the test is done.

You can take immediate treatment steps when someone has fainted:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call 911 if the person who fainted:

Even if it is not an emergency situation, you should be seen by a provider if you have never fainted before, if you faint often, or if you have new symptoms with fainting. Call for an appointment to be seen as soon as possible.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your provider will ask you questions to determine whether you simply fainted, or if something else happened (such as a seizure or heart rhythm disturbance), and to figure out the cause of the fainting episode. If someone saw the fainting episode, their description of the event may be helpful.

The physical exam will focus on your heart, lungs, and nervous system. Your blood pressure may be checked while you are in different positions. People with a suspected arrhythmia may need to be admitted to a hospital for testing.

Tests that may be ordered include:

Treatment depends on the cause of fainting.

Related Information

Dizziness
Unconsciousness - first aid
Alertness - decreased

References

Quinn J. Syncope. In: Adam JG, ed. Emergency Medicine: Clinical Essentials. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 64.

Walsh K, Hoffmayer K, Hamdan MH. Syncope: diagnosis and management. Curr Probl Cardiol. 2015;40:51-86. PMID: 25686850 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25686850.

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Review Date: 4/30/2015  

Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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