Treating fainting 

Treatment for fainting (syncope) will depend on the type of fainting you experienced and whether there's an underlying cause.

There are steps you should take if you think that you or someone around you is about to faint, and if someone has fainted.

If someone has fainted

If a person faints and doesn't regain consciousness within two minutes, put them into the recovery position. To do this:

  • place them on their side so they're supported by one leg and one arm
  • open their airway by tilting their head back and lifting their chin
  • monitor their breathing and pulse continuously

After putting the person in the recovery position, dial 999, ask for an ambulance and stay with them until medical help arrives.

If you or someone else is about to faint

If you know or suspect that you're going to faint, lie down, preferably in a position where your head is low and your legs are raised. This will encourage blood flow to the brain.

If it isn't possible to lie down, sit with your head between your knees. If you think that someone else is about to faint, you should help them to lie down or sit with their head between their knees.

Treating the underlying cause

When you visit the GP after a fainting episode, they'll investigate the type of fainting you experienced, and whether there's an underlying cause. 

Read more about diagnosing fainting.

If an underlying cause is found, treating it should help to prevent further fainting episodes.

For example, if you're diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you may be advised to take regular exercise and eat a healthy, balanced diet to help control the condition.

If you're diagnosed with a heart condition, you may need further tests and treatment. For example, several different medicines can be used to treat heart disease (where your heart's blood supply is blocked by a build-up of fatty substances in the main blood vessels).

Treating fainting associated with the nervous system

Most fainting episodes are associated with a temporary malfunction of the autonomic nervous system, which regulates the body's automatic functions, such as heartbeat and blood pressure. This type of fainting is called neurally mediated syncope.

Treatment for neurally mediated syncope involves avoiding any possible triggers. If you're not sure what caused your fainting episode, your GP may suggest keeping a diary of any symptoms you experience and making a note of what you were doing at the time you fainted, to help identify possible causes.

There are also steps you can take to avoid losing consciousness if you think that you may be about to faint (see above).

Fainting associated with an external trigger

Fainting can occur when an external trigger, such as a stressful situation, causes a temporary malfunction in your autonomic nervous system. This is called vasovagal syncope.

In most cases of vasovagal syncope, further treatment isn't required. However, you may find it useful to avoid potential triggers, such as stress or excitement, hot and stuffy environments, and long periods spent standing.

If you know that injections or medical procedures, such as blood tests, make you feel faint, you should tell the doctor or nurse beforehand. They'll make sure you're lying down during the procedure.

Fainting associated with bodily functions

Fainting can occur when a bodily function or activity  such as coughing  places a sudden strain on the autonomic nervous system. This is called situational syncope.

There's no specific treatment for situational syncope, but avoiding the triggers may help. For example, if coughing caused you to faint, you may be able to suppress your urge to cough and therefore avoid fainting.

Carotid sinus syndrome

Carotid sinus syndrome is where pressure on your carotid sinus causes you to faint. Your carotid sinus is a collection of sensors in the carotid artery, which is the main artery in your neck that supplies blood to your brain.

You can avoid fainting by not putting any pressure on your carotid sinus  for example, by not wearing shirts with tight collars.

In some people, carotid sinus syndrome can be treated by having a pacemaker fitted. A pacemaker is a small electrical device that's implanted in your chest to help keep your heart beating regularly.

Treating fainting associated with low blood pressure

Fainting can occur when your blood pressure drops as you stand up. This drop in blood pressure is called orthostatic hypotension

Avoiding anything that lowers your blood pressure should help prevent fainting. 

For example, avoid becoming dehydrated by increasing your fluid intake. Your GP may also advise you to eat small, frequent meals, rather than large ones, and to increase your salt intake.

Taking certain medications can also decrease blood pressure. However, don't stop taking a prescribed medication unless your GP or another qualified healthcare professional in charge of your care advises you to do so.

Read more about treating low blood pressure.

Physical counterpressure manoeuvres

Physical counterpressure manoeuvres are movements that are designed to raise your blood pressure and prevent you losing consciousness. One study found that training in physical counterpressure manoeuvres can reduce fainting in some people.

Physical counterpressure manoeuvres include:

  • crossing your legs
  • clenching the muscles in your lower body
  • squeezing your hands into a fist
  • tensing your arm muscles

You need to be trained in how to carry out these movements correctly. You can then carry them out if you experience any symptoms that suggest you're about to faint, such as feeling lightheaded.

Medication

Several different medications have been tested for the treatment of fainting. However, the guidelines for diagnosing and treating fainting (PDF, 2.51Mb), published by the European Society of Cardiology, found that most medications had disappointing results.

Driving

If you've fainted, it could affect your ability to drive. Depending on what caused you to faint, and whether you have any underlying health conditions, you may need to inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).

It's your legal obligation to inform the DVLA about a medical condition that could affect your driving ability. The GOV.UK website has more information about blackouts, fainting and driving.

Safety at work

If you've fainted, it may affect your safety at work or the safety of others. For example, continuing to operate machinery may be dangerous if it's likely that you'll faint again.

The healthcare professionals who diagnose and treat your condition can tell you whether it's likely to affect your work. If it is, speak to your health and safety representative.

How to put someone into the recovery position

This video provides a step-by-step guide on how to put someone into the recovery position.

Media last reviewed: 16/07/2014

Next review due: 16/07/2016

Page last reviewed: 04/11/2014

Next review due: 04/11/2016