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Fainting

14-minute read

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

Key facts

  • Fainting is when you suddenly lose consciousness and become unresponsive for a few seconds.
  • Before you faint, it is common to get warning signs such as weakness, dizziness, nausea, vision changes or anxiety.
  • A faint can be caused by tiredness, dehydration, severe pain, anxiety, low blood pressure, low blood sugar levels, heart attack or stroke.
  • If you feel you are about to faint, lie on the ground with your legs raised until the feeling passes.
  • If someone near you has fainted and they are unconscious, begin fainting first aid (DRSABCD) — it could save their life.

What is fainting?

Fainting (also called syncope) is when you suddenly lose consciousness or ‘black out’ for a few seconds. People usually recover very quickly and without any lasting effects.

Fainting happens when the blood flow to the brain is reduced.

What causes fainting?

There are many causes of fainting, including:

What are the symptoms of fainting?

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

When fainting, the person usually falls or slumps over.

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

When should I see my doctor?

You should see a doctor if you:

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

You may recover quickly after fainting, but even if you do, it's best to visit your doctor to check the cause. Fainting can be the sign of something simple, or of a more serious a medical condition, like a heart or brain disorder.

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

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 call an ambulance?

You should call an ambulance if you or someone near you has fainted and they:

How is fainting treated?

If you see someone faint and they are unconscious follow DRSABCD:

DRSABCD ACTION PLAN
Letter Representing What to do
D Danger
  • Check for danger, ensure that everyone in the area is safe.
  • Do not put yourself or others at risk.
R Response
  • Look for a response — loudly ask their name, squeeze their shoulder.
  • If they respond by moving, making a noise or opening their eyes they are conscious. Make them comfortable.
  • If there is no response, continue with DRSABCD.
S Send for help
  • If there is no response, phone triple zero (000) or ask another person to call.
  • Do not leave the person.
A Airway
  • Check their mouth and throat are not blocked with food, blood, vomit, loose teeth or a foreign object.
  • If there is a blockage put them in the recovery position to clear it.
  • Gently tilt their head back and lift their chin.
B Breathing
  • Check they are breathing.
  • Look, listen and feel for 10 seconds. Place a hand on their stomach, your ear to their mouth and look to see if their chest is rising and falling.
  • If they are breathing normally, place them in recovery position. Stay with them. Keep checking their breathing until help arrives.
C CPR
  • If they are not breathing normally, start CPR — cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
  • 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 or someone can bring it.
  • Do not get it if you need to leave the person alone.
  • Use the AED as soon as possible.

If they are conscious:

  • lay them on their back, raise and support their legs
  • loosen tight clothing
  • provide fresh air — open a window if possible
  • watch their face for signs of recovery
  • if they are pregnant, place a pillow under their right bottom to tilt them
  • treat any injuries

Do not:

  • make them sit with their heads between their legs
  • splash their face with water

If you fainted, you should:

  • avoid driving or operating machinery until you have discussed your fainting with your doctor
  • stay with someone until you feel better

Can fainting be prevented?

If you’re feeling faint or light-headed, here are some things you can do:

  • Lie down with your legs raised higher than your head for 10 minutes, or until the feeling passes.
  • Drink water.
  • Get some fresh air.

You can try to prevent yourself from fainting:

  • Change positions slowly, especially when moving from a lying to a standing position.
  • When waking up, sit on the edge of your bed for a few minutes before standing.
  • If you’re pregnant, avoid lying on your back. Pressure from your growing uterus (womb) on your major blood vessels may make you feel faint.
  • Keep a healthy diet. Have regular meals. Drink plenty of water unless you have been advised not to.
  • Avoid triggers that cause you to faint.

Resources and Support

  • Learn more about fainting first aid at St John Ambulance Australia.
  • Read more on how to perform CPR — you can save a life doing CPR.
  • Visit HealthyWA for tips on what to do if you feel you may faint.
  • You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Are you pregnant and looking for resources on fainting?

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

Last reviewed: December 2023


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