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Collapsing

10-minute read

If you are with someone who is unconscious, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance. If the person stops breathing, start CPR.

Key facts

  • A collapse is when you fall down for no obvious reason.
  • Collapse can be a medical emergency.
  • Collapse can be caused by fainting, low blood pressure, or something more serious.

What is a collapse?

Collapse is when you fall down for no obvious reason (for example, you have not had a trip or fall). It may also be called:

When you collapse, you may become unconscious for a short while, such as when you faint. You might fall to the ground and not respond to sounds or being shaken.

You collapse when your brain isn’t getting enough oxygen. When you’re on the ground, it’s easier for your heart to pump oxygen to your brain.

Collapse can become a medical emergency if you stop breathing or if your heart stops beating (cardiac arrest).

What symptoms are related to collapse?

If you collapse, you may lose consciousness. Before collapsing, you may:

  • feel nauseous (feel sick) or vomit
  • have a stomach ache
  • suddenly feel warm or sweaty
  • become pale
  • feel weak, dizzy or lightheaded
  • have numbness or tingling
  • have blurred or faded vision
  • feel anxious or restless

You may also have tinnitus (ringing in your ears).

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What should I do if someone collapses?

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. If there is foreign material, roll the patient on their side and clear the airway. If there is no foreign material, leave them in the position you found them in. Gently tilt their head back and lift their chin to clear the airway.
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. If they are not breathing normally, call an ambulance and start CPR.
C CPR Start CPR. 30 chest compressions followed by 2 breaths. Continue CPR until the patient starts breathing or until help arrives.
D Defibrillation As soon as possible, attach an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) to the patient and follow the voice prompts. Do not leave the patient alone to fetch the defibrillator — let someone else bring it.

What causes collapse?

Collapsing can have a range of causes, such as:

  • a problem with your circulation
  • a problem with your brain
  • the effects of poisoning (such as due to snake or spider bite)

Fainting

One common cause of collapse is fainting (syncope). Fainting can happen when your heart rate and blood pressure drop, meaning less blood reaches your brain. Fainting can happen when you:

  • are very hot
  • have been standing for a long time
  • are distressed
  • see or smell something unpleasant (for example, blood)
  • stand up quickly, especially if you are tired, dehydrated or have low blood pressure or low blood sugar

Other causes of collapse

Other causes of collapse may include:

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

When should I see a doctor?

If you see someone collapse:

  • assist the person to the ground and position them on their side
  • get medical help

If you are with someone who is unconscious, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance. If the person stops breathing, start CPR.

If you have collapsed and recovered, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. It could be a sign that something is seriously wrong.

This is very important if you also have:

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is collapse diagnosed?

If you collapse, your doctor will try to find the cause. They will ask about your symptoms and examine you. They may recommend tests, such as:

How is collapse treated?

After a collapse, you may need to have:

  • intravenous fluids (fluids given though a drip)
  • medicines
  • oxygen

Treatment will depend on the cause of your collapse.

Your doctor may also tell you:

  • not to drive until you are fully recovered
  • to stay with someone until you feel better

Follow your doctor’s instructions on eating and drinking, and take any medicines they may have given you.

Can collapse be prevented?

As a collapse can be caused by different conditions, it’s not always possible to prevent it.

You may be able to stop fainting from happening by:

  • changing position and standing up slowly
  • staying well hydrated
  • eating well
  • getting fresh air
  • avoiding triggers

If you feel like you are going to collapse, lie down and place your feet above your head.

Complications of collapse

If you collapse, you may injure yourself.

Resources and Support

You can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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

Last reviewed: November 2023


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