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Fainting spells are very common occurrences among population at every point in time. This spell also known as syncope (sink-o-pee) or passing out is a loss of consciousness due to a shortage of blood supply to the brain.

Syncope can occur at any age, though more frequent in adults.


There are several causes of syncope ranging from an underlying illness to an emotional response to a situation or environmental factors. Generally, the causes can be grouped into these three main categories:

Cardiac or Cardiovascular syncope

This occurs when there is a problem with the heart. It is the most serious of the three classes. It is characterized by dizziness, abnormal heartbeats or palpitations (abnormal awareness of heartbeat)

Reflex syncope

It is also known as neural mediated syncope. It is the commonest cause of syncope responsible for about 50% of all cases. It is characterized by a neurologically-induced decrease in the heart rate and/or blood pressure following exposure to certain triggers or situations in predisposed individuals. These can include physical or emotional stress, pain, standing upright for too long, the sight of blood, urination, lifting heavy objects and so on.

Reflex syncope can also happen after pressing a certain part of the neck. This occurs accidentally during shaving, buttoning up a tight collar or even turning the neck.

Orthostatic hypotension syncope

As the name implies, it is due to a drop in the blood pressure (hypotension) when assuming an upright position (orthostatic). Normally, when rising to an upright position, there is a drop in our blood pressure as gravity pulls blood in the veins in our legs. This can be significant enough to cause a fainting spell.

Factors that contribute to this include:

  • Alcohol
  • Use of certain medications,
  • Dehydration
  • Bleeding and infection.

Symptoms associated with syncope

  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Feeling light headed or dizzy
  • Headache
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Vertigo
  • Uncoordinated movements
  • Confusion.

What to do when you feel faint

  • When you begin to feel faint, try to sit and rest your head or lie down to increase the blood flow to the brain.
  • Take enough water to avoid dehydration.
  • Do not stand up too abruptly when the symptoms have subsided, as this can cause a recurrence.
  • Also, endeavor to go for a medical checkup to rule out any underlying illness.

What to do when someone faints

  1. Check if they are breathing if not seek immediate medical attention (you may perform a CPR if you can)
  2. Raise the leg of the patient to increase blood to the heart and brain except the person is at risk of aspiration in which case gently roll them to their side so that they do not choke or aspirate
  3. Loosen any tight clothing or belts so as to increase ventilation
  4. Check for injuries
  5. After resuscitation, do not allow the person to stand immediately so as to avoid a repeated episode.