Fainting, or ‘blacking out’ is caused by oxygen deprivation to the brain. In medical terms, fainting is called syncope. Fainting happens when someone loses consciousness and muscle control because not enough oxygenated blood is flowing to the brain.
People can faint at any age; from the very young to the elderly. It’s not uncommon for a person to have experienced a fainting episode once or twice in their life. There’s even some evidence that frequent fainting could be genetic, in other words, it “runs in the family”.
Fainting commonly occurs in some people after exposure to the sight of blood or experiencing something frightening or traumatic. This cause for fainting is referred to as vasovagal syncope. It’s caused by a sudden drop in your heart rate and blood pressure triggered by the nervous system. This is the type of fainting most people are familiar with. Everyone remembers movies with the person who becomes frightened and faints, usually being caught by the story’s hero. The good news is, vasovagal syncope is harmless in and of itself. In these cases, the danger comes not from passing out, but from hitting the ground!
Some conditions that can predispose someone to fainting might include dehydration, low blood sugar, or even standing up too fast. In most cases, a brief feeling of dizziness or darkened vision may precede a fainting episode. If this happens, don’t panic. For those prone to low blood sugar, a banana or glass of orange juice can quickly correct the problem. If you experience these symptoms after standing up too fast, quickly sit or lie back down. Elevating your legs may help as well, as this encourages blood flow back toward the brain.
Although fainting is usually not due to a life-threatening condition, if the cause of fainting is unclear, a medical evaluation may be warranted. Fainting that occurs along with chest pain, heart palpitations (fast or irregular heartbeat), or shortness of breath, can indicate a heart emergency. Loss of consciousness for more than a few seconds can also indicate a more ominous cause for a fainting spell. Rarer, but very dangerous, causes for fainting, include pulmonary embolism (blood clots), stroke, and internal bleeding.
The bottom line: fainting should be treated as a medical emergency unless the cause is known to be harmless. If you experience fainting, or are witness to someone having a fainting episode, seek immediate medical attention.
The blog is written by Lisa Dawson, the Director of Marketing at The Colony ER Hospital.
Nutex Health, Inc supports you and your family’s health. You can depend on The Colony Emergency Room Hospital or any one of our concierge-level, freestanding emergency facilities to deliver the emergency care you deserve, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.