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If you don’t know whether someone is fainting or is having a serious incident like a cardiac arrest, follow DRSABCD.

What is fainting?

Fainting, also called syncope, is a period of temporary loss of consciousness that happens when the blood flow to the brain is reduced.

When should I see a doctor?

People normally recover quickly after fainting. Fainting can be the sign of a medical condition, like a heart or brain disorder. It's always worth checking with your doctor, especially if you haven't fainted before.

You should see a doctor if you:

  • have fainted and do not know the cause
  • have recently fainted more than once

When should I call an ambulance?

You should call an ambulance if you:

  • have injured yourself — especially if you hit your head
  • are pregnant
  • have diabetes or heart disease, or if you had chest pains or palpitations before you fainted
  • have lost bladder or bowel control
  • took longer than a few minutes to regain consciousness

What are the symptoms of fainting?

Before fainting, it’s common to experience some of the following:

  • dizziness
  • lightheadedness
  • sweating
  • changes to your breathing, such as breathing faster and deeply
  • altered vision, such as blurring and seeing spots or lights
  • nausea

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

What causes fainting?

There are a number of things that can cause you to faint, including:

In some people, fainting is caused by a temporary glitch in the autonomic nervous system that regulates your heart rate and blood pressure. This can be triggered by:

  • experiencing high levels of pain
  • exposure to sights you find unpleasant, such as the sight of blood
  • high levels of anxiety
  • standing up for long periods of time
  • coughing, sneezing or laughing
  • straining on the toilet
  • heat exposure

How is fainting treated?

If you see someone faint, loosen any tight clothing and get them some fresh air.

If they are unconscious, follow DRSABCD.

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.

When they are conscious, lie them on their back and raise their legs, for example by putting a pillow underneath.

Putting their head between their knees and splashing water on their face won't work.

Can fainting be prevented?

If you're feeling faint, lie down with your legs raised slightly higher than your head. Be careful when moving and change positions very slowly, especially when moving from a lying or standing position

If you're pregnant, avoid lying on your back, especially during the later months of pregnancy, because the pressure of your expanding uterus (womb) on your major blood vessels may cause you to feel faint.

Eating a healthy diet and not missing meals can help. Drink plenty of clear fluid, unless you have an existing medical condition which means this is not possible.

If you've fainted, you should avoid driving or operating any machinery until you have discussed your fainting with a healthcare professional.

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

Last reviewed: September 2021

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