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Fainting (cont.)

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What is the treatment for fainting (syncope)?

Fainting is not normal, although the cause may not be serious. When in doubt, calling 911, activating the emergency medical system, and seeking medical care is appropriate. It is always appropriate to seek medical care.

If the episode is short-lived and the person returns to normal function with no evidence of injury, it may be appropriate to contact the primary care practitioner to discuss care options.

If the person is not breathing and no pulse can be felt, 911 should be activated, an AED placed, and bystander CPR should be initiated.

In the ambulance, hospital, or doctor's office, because the potential life-threatening causes of syncope need to be initially considered; often a patient who complains of fainting (syncope) will be placed on a heart monitor, have an intravenous line placed, and oxygen supplied. A fingerstick blood sugar may be checked to look for hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Further treatment will be tailored to the specific cause of the fainting or syncope based upon the patient's evaluation.

Can fainting (syncope) be prevented?

Depending upon the cause, there may be opportunity to prevent fainting spells. For example:

  • Patients who have had a vasovagal episode may be aware of the warning signs and be able to sit or lie down before passing out and avert the fainting episode.
  • For older patients with orthostatic hypotension, waiting for a second after changing positions may be all that is needed to allow the body's reflexes to react.
  • Medications may be adjusted if they are thought to be the potential cause of fainting or syncope.
  • Adequate fluid intake may be enough to prevent dehydration as the cause for syncope.
  • There is an increased awareness of syncope and sudden death in younger athletes due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. A variety of screening tests are available to assess potential risk for sudden death, but no consensus yet as to who and when to screen athletes has emerged.


Fauci, Anthony S., et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 17th ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2008. Getting to the heart of cardiac problems.
Reviewed By: Rambod Rouhbakhsh, M.D., MBA, FAAFP; American Board of Family Medicine

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/2/2013

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