Fainting spell.Fainting, or passing out, is usually caused by a drop in blood pressure, which reduces blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Most fainting spells are nothing to worry about. But talk to a healthcare provider if you lose consciousness repeatedly or have any other symptoms.
Fainting usually is caused by a temporary drop in blood pressure. During that brief drop, the brain does not get the blood flow that it needs—and you lose consciousness.
The medical term for fainting is syncope, but it’s more commonly known as “passing out.” A fainting spell generally lasts from a few seconds to a few minutes. Feeling lightheaded, dizzy, weak, or nauseous sometimes happens before you faint.
“Syncope — the medical term for fainting — is defined as a temporary loss of consciousness and muscle control caused by low blood flow to the brain,” says pediatric cardiologist Peter Aziz, MD. “To put it more simply, fainting can occur when your blood pressure or heart rate drops suddenly.
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Nearly everyone has experienced the sensation of feeling lightheaded when standing up quickly. It feels as though you might faint for a few seconds and in some cases, people do lose consciousness for brief periods of time.
But most fainting spells, also called syncope, (pronounced Sin-koe-pee), are not serious and may be caused by many factors such as stress, grief, overheating, dehydration, exhaustion or illness. About one-third of all people will have at least one fainting spell during their lifetime.
The Facts About Fainting
The most common reason for fainting is a sudden drop in blood pressure. This typically occurs because the heart cannot pump an adequate amount of blood fast enough to the brain when the body demands it. The lack of blood circulation, and the oxygen it carries to the brain, is what causes the dizziness and possible loss of consciousness. Fainting can happen to anyone but is especially common among older people.
It can also occur when you:
- Stand up quickly from a sitting or lying position.
- Work or play hard, especially if it’s hot.
- Breathe too fast (also known as hyperventilating).
- Get very upset. Being upset can affect the nerves that control your blood pressure.
- Take medicine for high blood pressure.
Sometimes you can avoid fainting by heeding the early warning signs, which include:
- Pale skin appearance
- Feeling of warmth
- Rapid breathing
- Blurred vision
Getting to the Root of Fainting
If you have a tendency to faint, it is important that you try to determine the cause(s). This will enable you to prevent fainting by avoiding the situations that may trigger a fainting spell.
For example, if you determine that you are prone to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) you should always carry a fast-acting carbohydrate with you like as a juice box or a bag of raisins. If you tend to respond strongly to certain stressful situations, you may need to learn to practice systematic, deliberate breathing as a way to manage your stress response and avoid hyperventilating.
Some people may also have health issues that may bring about fainting, such as a heart condition. Older adults may experience a higher risk of fainting due to medications they are taking or because they are dehydrated. You will likely have to do some of your own investigative work to determine what prompts you to feel faint. You should also be sure to discuss any ongoing fainting spells with your doctor.
If you’re prone to fainting, try these tips:
- Identify and avoid triggers that may contribute to fainting, such as excessive stress, rigorous exercise or becoming overheated.
- Drink plenty of water and don’t skip meals. Dehydration and not eating can lower blood pressure and intensify blood pressure changes due to changes in position.
- Rise slowly from a lying or sitting position to allow your body time to adjust.
- If you feel faint, lie down and elevate your legs above your heart or sit with your head between your knees until you feel well enough to move. This will also aid the blood flow to your brain.
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