Fainting Can Be Fatal: Here’s What Causes People to Pass Out

Most of us have experienced fainting or passed out at some point in our lives. It is commonly believed to be caused by stress, inadequate sleep or eating an imbalanced diet among other factors. One often tends to ignore it.

However, while it may seem common, fainting can be fatal. When you faint, you may have a fall and injure yourself. At times this can lead to fatal injuries, affecting a person for life. Even if you experience one episode of fainting, it can be a warning sign for a heart disorder. This is because fainting is always due to a cardiac cause.

It is known as ‘syncope’ in medical terms.

The temporary loss of consciousness is the onset of syncope caused by insufficient flow of blood to the brain. It can be a warning sign for arrhythmias caused by abnormal beating of the heart, leading to serious medical emergencies like cardiac arrest and stroke.

What Happens When You Faint?

Fainting is characterized by a brief loss of consciousness which sets on rapidly and the recovery is spontaneous.

In India, syncope occurs across various age groups, but the causes are different for younger people as compared to the elderly.

While syncope may seem common, some are life threatening, especially fainting during exertion or without any warning signs.

It is characterized by a brief loss of consciousness which sets on rapidly and the recovery is spontaneous.

Syncope is related to heart damage or abnormal electrical system disorders that affect the heart's ability to pump blood efficiently. In certain cases, fainting is the only warning sign of an arrhythmia that could lead to death. People with underlying heart disease are at higher risk for syncope.

Symptoms & Diagnosis of Syncope

The risk associated with syncope increases with age.

The warning signs of syncope include palpitations in the heart, reeling of the head, giddiness, weakness, loss of energy and shortness of breath. 

The risk associated with syncope increases with age. People with a coronary artery disease, congenital heart defects, ventricular dysfunction, those who have suffered heart attacks, those having slowed conduction system and genetic mutations are most prone to risk.

Diagnosis of syncope is based on the patient’s history of fainting. The common methodology is to conduct a physical examination and electrocardiography (ECG).

Based on the results, a more comprehensive cardiac assessment maybe required to assess the severity of the problem.

Also Read: Cardiac Arrest Versus Heart Attack. How Do They Differ?

What Causes People to Faint?

Syncope is caused by a variety of factors and there is no “one size which fits all’’ when it comes to treatment. Therefore, accurate diagnosis of the underlying cause is very crucial, and the treatment should be determined based on that.

Syncope can be managed with lifestyle changes, medication and therapies depending on the gravity of the medical condition.

No loss of consciousness can be benign. While the causes of syncope or fainting are commonly believed to be neurological and patients seek medical advice basis this, the real cause is always cardiac in nature.

Therefore, one must visit a Cardiac Electrophysiologist who is a subject matter expert on managing syncope to help prevent the next syncope from occurring.

Also Read: What to Do When Someone Collapses In Front of You

What Preventive Steps Can You Take?

  • Keep a record of your fainting, even one fainting needs to be addressed and a specialist to be seen
  • Don’t ignore any instance of fainting as it can be fatal
  • Consult an expert immediately on experiencing giddiness, reeling of head, severe weakness, fatigue, near fainting, fall and shortness of breath
  • Sit or lie down in case you feel like fainting for improving blood circulation to the brain

(Dr Vanita Arora is the Director & Head of Cardiac Electrophysiology Lab & Arrhythmia Services at Max Super Specialty Hospital)

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