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What is fainting?

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

Fainting causes

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

  • changes to your blood pressure, especially when you stand up
  • dehydration
  • anaemia
  • some medicines
  • diabetes
  • a nervous system problem
  • a heart problem
  • a seizure.

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.

Fainting symptoms

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.

Recovery from a faint usually happens quite quickly as the blood flow back to the brain returns to normal.

If you are looking after someone who has fainted you should:

  • Place the person on their back and raise their legs so that blood flows back to the brain. You can kneel down and rest their legs on your shoulders.
  • Make sure they have plenty of fresh air.
  • If they don’t recover quickly, make sure their airway is open and check their breathing.
  • If they are unresponsive, call triple zero (000) and start CPR.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your fainting, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

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

Last reviewed: September 2017

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