Should I Be Worried About Fainting Often?

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Fainting can occur due to stress, dehydration, low BP/blood sugar or standing for long under the sun. If it occurs without these triggers then it could be due to nervous or cardiac disorders. Warning signs include frequent yawning, sweating, giddiness, nausea, blurry eyes and ringing ears. Consult a doctor and get tests done if it reoccurs 2-3 times a month.

Fainting is a sudden, temporary loss of consciousness where the person usually falls down. The medical term for fainting is “syncope” which distinguishes it from other forms of loss of consciousness like seizures or concussions.

In an episode of fainting, the person usually regains consciousness within a few minutes. People around may usually sprinkle a few drops of water or wipe the person’s face with a wet sponge. If the person does not regain consciousness in a few minutes, it becomes a medical emergency where s/he needs to be taken to a medical center for oxygen and other interventions.

Causes Of Fainting

Fainting spells occur when the blood flow to the brain is reduced. The brain requires adequate oxygen-rich blood to function normally and when this is compromised, a person usually faints. A temporary issue in the autonomic nervous system (which regulates blood pressure and heart beat) causes fainting spells. This is the most common type of fainting and is known as “neutrally mediated syncope.”

The causes for this type of syncope include:

  1. Emotional stress,
  2. Extreme physical pain,
  3. Dehydration,
  4. Low blood pressure,
  5. Low blood sugar,
  6. Low hemoglobin counts,
  7. Exhaustion and weakness,
  8. Exposure to excess heat from the sun, and
  9. Exposure to crowds where oxygen levels are low.

According to Dr. Bryant Lin, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine, Stanford University Medical Center, fainting or passing out spells are common and mostly temporary without requiring medical interventions. In a study of around 7,000 people who had fainting spells, only 7% went into emergency. Sudden fainting spells are usually very common among the elderly especially above 75 as the body becomes unsteady and blood circulation is compromised. In some cases, this is related to age-related disorders like Parkinson’s or stroke.

Symptoms Of Fainting

While some fainting episodes come really suddenly, you might experience some early warning signs such as:

  1. Yawning,
  2. Cold, clamming hands,
  3. Sweating,
  4. Nausea,
  5. Breathing issues,
  6. Giddiness,
  7. Lightheadedness,
  8. Blurry eyes, and
  9. Ringing ears.

Should I Be Worried About Fainting Often?

In more than one-third of the people experiencing fainting spells, the cause is unknown. Sometimes the causes are evident like if a person has been standing too long in the sun or in a very crowded place.

Fainting spells are worrisome mostly because it may result in injury from the fall. A sudden collapse may result in head injuries or orthopedic injuries. The elderly especially are prone to fractures from sudden, high-impact falls. Frequent bouts of fainting compromise a person’s well-being as s/he may sustain injuries, feel physically weak and experience a sense of insecurity of the impending next episode.

People who are prone to frequent fainting spells are usually afraid to go out or be alone. This is psychologically distressing and makes the person feel vulnerable. The fear of “when next” can be painful and interfere with daily activities.

If one is experiencing too many fainting spells without any obvious external cause (like heat exposure or crowds), it is definitely worrying and warrants medical interventions and diagnostics to get to the root cause.

If you are experiencing more than 2-3 episodes in a month, get a physician to check you out and rule out serious causes like:

  • Nervous system disorders and
  • Cardiac disorders like narrowing of the aortic valve, thickening of heart muscle, lung clots or erratic heart rhythms.

Your doctor will usually take your medical history and run a series of diagnostics to rule out serious disorders. S/he may recommend an EEG (electroencephalogram to measure electrical activity in the brain) and an ECG (electrocardiogram) to identify neurological or cardiac disorders.

Treatment will vary depending on the exact cause of the fainting spells.

What To Do When Someone Faints?

  • Try to catch the person before s/he sustains injuries from the fall.
  • Make the person lie on the back.
  • Do not slap the person’s face.
  • Gently wipe the person’s face with a wet sponge.
  • Do not attempt to put water into the person’s mouth.
  • If the person does not come around in few minutes, get medical help immediately.