By Grant J Everett
Fainting is a sudden, brief loss of consciousness caused by decreased blood flow to the brain. While fainting may occasionally indicate some sort of medical condition, the real danger comes from falling over and injuring yourself. This is especially serious among older people who can suffer severe injuries from even the smallest of tumbles. Thankfully, our bodies will usually correct blood flow problems to the brain before we reach the point of passing out, but not 100% of the time.
While there’s no single universal cause for fainting, anything that interferes with your blood flow or affects your nerves and emotions can be a trigger. This can include intense spikes of anxiety, fear, pain or stress, low blood sugar, having too little salt in your system, or using alcohol or other drugs. It can even be the result of violent or excessive coughing, yawning, laughing, or hyperventilating. Standing up from a lying or sitting position too quickly can cause you to faint, as can neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease and certain medications. Some types of fainting even seem to run in families.
Most cases of fainting don’t require medical treatment. However, if you injured yourself, have diabetes, are pregnant, have a history of heart issues, experienced a loss of bladder or bowel control, or took longer than a few minutes to regain consciousness, you should consult your GP to make sure everything is okay. Preventative measures will vary from person to person, but can include avoiding hot and crowded environments, or not going to places that cause you severe emotional stress. And even if you’ve only fainted once, in future you’ll need to watch out for warning symptoms like excessive yawning, a sudden clammy sweat, feeling sick, fast and deep breathing, confusion, lightheadedness, a ringing in your ears, blurred vision, seeing spots, or your vision going grey.
If injections or medical procedures make you feel faint and woozy, you should tell the doctor or nurse beforehand. They’ll make sure you’re lying down during the procedure.
If someone collapses, laying them on the ground with their head and their heart on roughly the same level will make it easier for blood to reach their brain, allowing them to return to consciousness after a minute or so. If possible, elevate their legs. If they don’t regain consciousness within a couple of minutes, put them into the recovery position and call 000 for an ambulance. Stay with them until medical help arrives. After waking up from a faint it’s normal to feel confused and weak and tired for half an hour or so, and it’s likely you won’t be able to remember what you were doing just prior to passing out.
If you feel a faint coming on, the best technique is to lie down with your head lower than your legs. This will encourage blood flow to your brain, which will help to wake you up if you lose consciousness. If it isn’t possible to lie down, sit with your head between your knees. If you’ve fainted at work, then this officially becomes a Work Health & Safety issue. It’s best to consult your WHS officer and a healthcare professional to get cleared, as operating heavy machinery, for instance, can be very dangerous if somebody faints at the controls.
Find more on Flourish Australia’s Physical Health microsite