Fainting Episode


Understanding is the key to finding answers.


Fainting is a common problem accounting for 740,000 emergency department visits in the U.S. each year.1 Half of patients admitted to the hospital leave without a diagnosis.2 People faint for many reasons but it can be a sign of an underlying heart condition.


  • Occurs when blood pressure drops and limits oxygen to the brain
  • May also be called “passing out,” “blackout” or “syncope”
  • Usually lasts only a few minutes, but may be followed by a period of confusion
  • Affects all age groups and sometimes occurs in healthy people
  • Can be a sign of an underlying medical condition


Fainting, also called syncope, is a sudden loss of consciousness. It occurs when the blood pressure drops and not enough oxygen reaches the brain. There are times when fainting may look like a seizure.3


Fainting can be caused by many things. Many patients have a medical condition they may or may not know about that affects the nervous system or heart. You may also have a condition that affects blood flow through your body and causes your blood pressure to drop when you change positions (for example, going from lying down to standing).3

Risk Factors

While some causes of unexplained fainting are harmless, others may be serious. Heart-related causes, including abnormal heart rhythms, are among the most serious causes of fainting. Also, if you do not have any warning signs before you faint, you may fall unexpectedly and be injured.


If your doctor suspects that your fainting is heart related, cardiac monitoring may be necessary.

Heart monitoring is used to either identify or rule out a heart rhythm disorder and to determine the right course of treatment. Types of heart monitoring vary in terms of how long they can be used and how information is captured. Common types of heart monitoring systems include:

  • Holter Monitors
  • Event Recorders
  • Mobile Cardiac Telemetry Systems
  • Insertable Cardiac Monitoring Systems


These talking points will help you remember important information related to your fainting to share with your healthcare team.

Remember to Share:

  • A description of your fainting episodes
  • The number of fainting episodes you’ve had in the past two years
  • What you were doing before you fainted
  • Any concerns you have about fainting (e.g., safety, your job, driving)
  • Any treatments you are receiving for fainting
  • If your family has a history of undiagnosed fainting or sudden cardiac death
  • How fainting is affecting your home and work life

Remember to Ask:

  • Could my fainting be related to my heart? Why or why not?
  • If you think my fainting may be heart-related, what tests are needed?
  • Should I see a heart specialist doctor to help determine why I am fainting?


The goal of treatment is to prevent another fainting episode. Sometimes, this can be accomplished with simple lifestyle changes. Other times, medication is needed.

Lifestyle Changes

  • Avoiding potential triggers like hot environments, prolonged standing, dehydration, certain medications
  • Consuming adequate fluid and salt
  • Wearing support stockings
  • Standing up more slowly


If you continue to have fainting spells after making some lifestyle changes, your doctor may prescribe a medication. It is helpful to determine the cause of the fainting in order to recommend the most appropriate medicine for your condition.

Pacemaker or Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)

If your healthcare team determines that your syncope is related to an abnormal heart rhythm, a medical device like a pacemaker or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) may be implanted to control or reset the heart rhythm so it doesn’t beat too quickly or too slowly.

Catheter Ablation

During catheter ablation, radiofrequency energy is directed through a catheter inserted in an artery toward abnormal electrical pathways in the heart tissue that are causing an arrhythmia. This scars the tissue, normalizes the erratic electrical signals and corrects the arrhythmia.


Mendu ML, McAvay G, Lampert R, Stoehr J, Tinetti ME. Yield of diagnostic tests in evaluating syncopal episodes in older patients. Arch Intern Med. July 27, 2009;169(14):1299-1305.


Data obtained from CDC National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS) from the years 2008-2014.


Morag R, Brenner B. Syncope. Medscape. April 16, 2014. Accessed February 16, 2018.