Fainting is a condition that looks very dramatic, but fortunately most of the time is not. Dr Joe Kosterich talks about fainting, including what causes fainting, why people faint, when to be concerned, simple tips for preventing a fainting episode, and what to do when someone faints.

Video: FaintingWe’ve all seen visions on the television of people fainting – sometimes in the presence of rock stars or other major events. They always look very dramatic. When someone slumps to the floor, often the panic buttons seem to get hit. What’s going on and what can we do for this person?

There are a lot of reasons why people can faint. To keep it fairly simple, there are two broad categories with fainting. The main one is a vasovagal type episode where there is a drop in blood pressure. There is less blood going to the brain, a signal gets fired that says, “hey, we need more blood” and literally, you faint to the floor so that more blood can go to the brain because this way, it doesn’t have to be pushed uphill. Fainting episodes are not to be confused with convulsions or seizures, which is when the body is jerking or moving around but that’s a topic for another day.

There are a large number of reasons why people may faint. It can be because of excitement, and we see that at times. Sometimes if people do have low blood pressure they can be a bit more susceptible, and if people don’t have enough water to drink, that may also be an issue. We seem to come back to water in a lot of these videos, but it’s because it is so important. If people are dehydrated, they will often feel faint or can faint.

After that, there are a number of other contributing factors that may be at play. If your iron levels are low – this is often more of an issue with women than men but can affect anybody – you may be more susceptible to fainting spells. Low blood sugar levels also factor in. For example, if you skip breakfast and have a busy morning, by 11 o’clock you may be feeling a little bit faint. There are other reasons to do with the circulation and the neck that can cause people to faint. If there are irregular heart beats, that can contribute to fainting, so there a very large number of causes.

One of my medical school professors once said, that every one’s entitled to one faint in their life. By that, what he meant was that if you faint once, it doesn’t mean that you have some horrendous disease and that it’s the end of the world. What he was also getting at is that you don’t have to hit the panic buttons if it happens once. It is, however, worthwhile going to see your doctor if you have fainted though it certainly doesn’t mean there are any major problems.

There may be some basic, or simple, tests done and we spoke about things like iron which is one of the more common reasons, particularly in women. Generally speaking, there will be circumstances that contribute. For example, if someone has skipped breakfast, if they haven’t had a lot of water to drink, if they’ve had a busy morning, they’re then outside or it’s a particularly hot day or a little bit of stress comes in, you can see that a whole combination of factors may play together. When we speak to people about what went on before the episode, you often find that there are circumstances that have happened on that day that may not happen in that exact way another time.

Prevention is always the best approach and there are simple things that we can do to make it less likely that we may feel faint. Keeping up with our water intake and not allowing ourselves to get dry, is probably number one. Not skipping meals is also important. For some people, if they go three or four hours without eating, they just start to feel as though their sugars are dropping. For those people it’s important to have something to munch on such as a piece of fruit or some nuts, whatever works for you. Don’t let yourself reach the point where your blood sugar levels are dropping down.

Getting enough sleep is important because when people are tired they are more likely to faint. If you are outside standing for extended periods of time, you need to move your legs or shuffle around, so that you’re not getting too tired or drying out.

If you do faint, what should be done? If you see it happen, often people do get quite alarmed and concerned. The person should generally be rolled onto their left side. You hear about the coma position, but if someone has fainted they will almost certainly, not be in a coma. When we discuss coma, we’re talking about something that is not just a simple faint.

A person who has fainted will become conscious very quickly. In fact, often there is not even a compete loss of consciousness – it’s more a slumping to the ground. This, again, is quite different to someone who is collapsing which may be for more serious reasons. When somebody feels faint, or a little light-headed, sometimes there’s even time to grab onto something or someone on the way down because you actually feel it happening to you. By the time people are lying down, a fair degree of the problem is solved because it has corrected this drop in blood pressure.

Don’t try to sit up too soon, lie there for a few minutes in need be. Simple things like a glass of water may help, and some people may feel a bit hot or flushed so a cold towel or flannel on the forehead may be helpful as well. Be prepared to lie there for a few minutes until you start to feel like you’ve recovered a bit. At that point, don’t just leap up and run off, you’re probably going to need to sit up for a couple of minutes. Let people give you a hand; this is not a time to be proud or say things like “I’ll be okay.” You will be okay, but it’s good to have a little bit of help. Sit there for a few minutes. Once you’re feeling a little bit better again, you can stand up and again, let people help you with this. Once you feel comfortable standing, then you can shuffle off and go about the rest of your day.

To sum up, some people will go through their whole life without fainting; others are a little bit more susceptible. We’ve spoken about some of the simple, preventative measures and also that if you have fainted, it’s worth going to see your doctor. A vast majority of the time, it’s not going to be anything serious or sinister; for example, if your irons are low that can be corrected, which is a useful and helpful thing.

Fainting: looks fairly dramatic but most of the time, it isn’t anything serious. It’s worth checking it out with your doctor and there are some simple things that you can do to keep yourself upright.