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Fainting First Aid

What is loss of consciousness?
Loss of consciousness is interruption of one's awareness of self and surroundings. When loss of consciousness is temporary and recovers spontaneously it is referred to as fainting or syncope.

How does temporary loss of consciousness occur?
Fainting can happen when not enough oxygen flows through your blood and into your brain. This can lead to light-headedness or a "black out" episode of loss of consciousness. You lose consciousness, or "pass out," for a very brief time -- just a few seconds or minutes. There are many conditions which can temporarily impair the brain's blood supply.

What conditions cause temporary loss of consciousness?
Fainting can be related to many different things. More than one thing may be the cause of fainting. Sometimes a specific cause for fainting can't be found.
l A sudden drop in your blood pressure can cause you to faint. Sometimes your heart rate and blood vessels can't react fast enough when your body's need for oxygen changes. This is very common among older people. It can happen when:

  • You stand up fast.
  • You work or play hard, especially if it's very hot.
  • You begin to breathe too fast (called hyperventilating).
  • You get very upset. Being upset can affect the nerves that control your blood pressure.
  • You're taking medicine for high blood pressure.
  • Temporary loss of consciousness can be caused by heart conditions and conditions that do not directly involve the heart.
  • Temporary loss of consciousness is more commonly caused by conditions that do not directly involve the heart.

These conditions include those caused by:

  • a shift in body position from lying or sitting to a more vertical position (postural hypotension)
  • dehydration
  • blood pressure medications
  • diseases of the nerves to the legs of the elderly
  • diabetes
  • Parkinson's disease
    A decreased total blood volume and/or poor tone of the nerves of the legs from these conditions causes a disproportionate distribution of the blood in the legs, instead of up to the brain, when standing.
  • Other common non-heart causes of temporary loss of consciousness include fainting after blood is drawn or after certain situational events (situational syncope), such as after urination, defecating, or coughing. This occurs because of a reflex of the involuntary nervous system (vasovagal reaction) that leads to slowing of the heart rate and dilation of the blood vessels in the legs, thus lowering the blood pressure. The result is that less blood (therefore less oxygen) reaches the brain as it is directed to the legs. With situational syncope, patients often note nausea, sweating, or weakness just before the loss of consciousness occurs.
  • Brain stroke or "near-stroke" (transient ischemic attack) and migraines can also lead to temporary loss of consciousness.
  • Heart conditions that can cause temporary loss of consciousness include abnormal heart rhythms (heart beating too fast or too slow), abnormalities of the heart valves (aortic or pulmonic valve stenosis), elevated blood pressure in the arteries supplying blood to the lungs (pulmonary artery hypertension), tears in the aorta (aortic dissection), and widespread disease of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy).
  • If you faint when you turn your head to the side, the bones in your neck may be pinching on one of the blood vessels that leads to your brain. If this happens to you, be sure to tell your doctor about it.
  • A drop in your blood sugar may also cause you to faint. This can happen if you have diabetes, but it may also happen if you don't eat for a long time.
  • Some prescription medicines can cause fainting. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you think your fainting may be related to a medicine you're taking. Alcohol, cocaine and marijuana can also cause fainting.
  • Other causes of fainting include:
  • Anaemia
  • Any condition in which there is a rapid loss of blood. This can be from internal bleeding such as with a peptic ulcer, or a tubal pregnancy or ruptured ovarian cyst in females.
  • Heat stroke or heat exhaustion
  • Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia
  • Toxic shock syndrome
  • Extreme pain
  • Any procedure in women that stretches the cervix such as having an IUD inserted, especially in women who have never been pregnant.
  • Sudden emotional stress or fright
  • Seizures
  • Anxiety, stress and excitement
Note, also, that the risk for fainting increases if you are in hot, humid weather, are in a stuffy room or have consumed excessive amounts of alcohol.

What you can do
If you feel like you're going to faint, lie down. If you can't lie down, sit and bend forward with your head between your knees, to help get the blood flowing to your brain. Wait until you feel better before trying to stand up.
You probably don't need to go to your doctor if you have only fainted one time and you are in otherwise good health. Fainting is common and usually not serious. However, if you have serious health problems, especially heart-related problems, high blood pressure or diabetes, you probably should see your doctor. See your doctor if your fainting is associated with any of these features:

  • Irregular heart beat
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden onset (no warning signs)
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Trouble talking
  • Fainting when you turn your head
  • Fainting more than once in a month
  • What others can do to help
    Fainting typically occurs in connection with both physical and mental strain, and especially if a person does not feel well to start with.
    Fainting can occur suddenly and unexpectedly. Often, everything goes black. The person then turns pale, starts sweating and possibly feels sick. It can happen while standing, sitting down or if one gets up too quickly.

    Usually people have some idea that they're going to faint and can warn the people around them.

    Just before fainting, a person may:

    • Feel a sense of dread
    • Feel dizzy
    • See spots before his or her eyes
    • Have nausea
    If you know someone is going to faint, or suspect that it is going to happen, help the person lie down, preferably with their head low and the legs raised. This helps the blood flow back to the brain. Never try to get them up, as this will only make the problem worse.
    If they become unconscious, it rarely takes more than a few minutes to regain consciousness completely, although the arms and legs might still feel weak. If a person tries to get up too fast, they may feel dizzy and perhaps even faint again.
    If a person feels faint and isn't able to lie down, they should sit instead, putting their head between their knees. A friend should hold the person's hand behind his or her head and press downwards.
    At the same time, the person feeling faint should push their head upwards. This makes the blood flow to the brain, reducing the symptoms and reducing the risk of fainting.
    Here are some dos and don'ts to remember if someone is about to faint or faints:
    • Catch the person before he or she falls.
    • Have the person lie down with the head below the level of the heart. Raise the legs 8 to 12 inches. This promotes blood flow to the brain. If a victim who is about to faint can lie down right away, he or she may not lose consciousness.
    • Turn the victim's head to the side so the tongue doesn't fall back into the throat.
    • Loosen any tight clothing.
    • Apply moist towels to the person's face and neck.
    • Keep the victim warm, especially if the surroundings are chilly.
    • Don't slap or shake anyone who's just fainted.
    • Don't try to give the person anything to eat or drink, not even water, until they are fully conscious.
    • Don't allow the person who's fainted to get up until the sense of physical weakness passes. Then be watchful for a few minutes to be sure he or she doesn't faint again.
    People who faint easily should pay attention to the situations that trigger their fainting attacks. If you think you are going to faint, alert the people around you so they can be prepared for what might happen. Fainting attacks are normally short.
    If a person is unconscious for more than one or two minutes without any signs of regaining consciousness, additional first aid may be needed.
    For any unconscious person, the safest position to place them in is the 'recovery' position -- on their side with their chin up slightly so that they can breathe easily. Stay with an unconscious person until they recover, or help arrives, if at all possible.

    Source: MedicineNet.com, FamilyDoctor.org and netdoctor.co.uk

    Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2005