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Collapsing

6-minute read

Collapsing has a range of causes. Usually it’s because a person has fainted, and they recover quickly, but it can be due to something more serious.

Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance if someone:

What is a collapse?

You collapse when you fall down for no obvious reason (such as when you trip or fall). A collapse may happen when you become unconscious for a few seconds, such as when you faint. You might fall to the ground and not respond to sounds or being shaken. Your pulse may become faint and you might even stop breathing.

A person collapses when their brain isn’t getting enough oxygen. When you’re on the ground, it’s easier for the heart to pump oxygen to the brain.

You should always seek medical attention if you collapse – the sooner, the better. It could be a sign something is seriously wrong, and collapsing is a common cause of injuries, especially in older people.

What causes a collapse?

Fainting occurs when your heart rate drops and the blood vessels widen. This causes blood to pool in the legs, meaning less blood reaches your brain. Fainting is also called syncope. It can be caused by triggers that include heat, standing for a long time, seeing blood, or a shock. It can also happen when you stand up quickly, especially if you are tired, dehydrated or have low blood pressure or low blood sugar.

Very occasionally, people collapse without losing consciousness – their muscles just give way. This can happen due to problems with generalised weakness and frailty, a problem with the heart or brain, a seizure or an issue affecting the inner ear.

Other, more serious, casues of collapse include:

  • a heart attack
  • a stroke
  • a seizure
  • a major illness
  • an injury or accident, especially if there has been a blow to the chest or head
  • a drug overdose
  • alcohol poisoning

Collapse treatment

If someone collapses, follow these steps. You can remember them by thinking “Doctor’s ABCD” (for DRS ABCD).

DRSABCD ACTION PLAN
Letter Representing What to do
D Danger Ensure that the patient and everyone in the area is safe. Do not put yourself or others at risk. Remove the danger or the patient.
R Response Look for a response from the patient — loudly ask their name, squeeze their shoulder.
S Send for help If there is no response, phone triple zero (000) or ask another person to call. Do not leave the patient.
A Airway Check their mouth and throat is clear. Remove any obvious blockages in the mouth or nose, such as vomit, blood, food or loose teeth, then gently tilt their head back and lift their chin.
B Breathing Check if the person is breathing abnormally or not breathing at all after 10 seconds. If they are breathing normally, place them in the recovery position and stay with them.
C CPR If they are still not breathing normally, start CPR. Chest compressions are the most important part of CPR. Start chest compressions as soon as possible after calling for help.
D Defibrillation Attach an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) to the patient if one is available and there is someone else who is able to bring it. Do not get one yourself if that would mean leaving the patient alone.

After a collapse, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Your doctor or the hospital will run tests including blood sugar levels, blood tests, heart tests, a urine test to rule out an infection and x-rays, especially if you injured yourself when you collapsed. You may need to have intravenous fluids, medicines or oxygen.

Collapse self-help

Do not drive after you have collapsed. Make sure there is someone with you. Follow your doctor’s instructions on eating and drinking, and take any medicines they may have given you.

How to prevent a collapse

If you are likely to faint, avoid triggers like standing up too quickly or getting dehydrated. When you change position or stand up after lying or sitting, do so slowly and carefully.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2018


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