Fainting - Treatment 

Treating fainting 

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

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

If someone has fainted

If a person faints and does not regain consciousness within two minutes, you should put them into the recovery position. To do this, you should:

  • place the person on their side so they are 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

You should then dial 999 to request an ambulance and stay with the person until medical help arrives.

If you or someone else is about to faint

If you know or suspect that you are going to faint, you should 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 is not possible to lie down, sit down with your head between your knees.

If you suspect someone else is about to faint, you should help them to lie down or sit down in this way.

Treating the underlying cause

When you visit the GP after a fainting episode, they will investigate the type of fainting you experienced, and whether there is an underlying cause for it. See diagnosis of fainting for more information.

If your GP finds an underlying cause for your fainting, treating it should help prevent further fainting episodes.

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

If you are diagnosed with a heart condition, you may need to have further tests and treatment. For example, there are several different medicines that can be used to treat heart disease, which is 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 heartbeat and maintenance of blood pressure.

This type of fainting is called neurally mediated syncope. Learn more about this kind of fainting in causes of fainting.

Treatment for this kind of fainting involves avoiding any possible triggers. If you are not sure what caused your fainting episode, your GP may suggest that you keep a diary of any symptoms you experience and what you were doing at the time that you fainted, to help identify possible causes.

There are also steps that you can take to avoid losing consciousness if you think that you may be about to faint. See above for more information.

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 this kind of fainting, further treatment is not required. However, you may find it useful to avoid potential triggers, which can include stress or excitement, hot and stuff environments, and spending a long time 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 will then be able to make sure you are lying down during the procedure.

Fainting associated with bodily functions

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

There is no specific treatment, but avoiding the triggers may help. For example, if coughing has caused you to faint, it may be possible 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, battery-operated device that is inserted into your chest to help your heart beat regularly.

See pacemaker implantation for more information about the procedure.

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.

By avoiding anything that lowers your blood pressure you should be able to prevent fainting. For example, you should:

  • make sure you do not get dehydrated, for example, by limiting how much alcohol you drink
  • avoid medication that can lower your blood pressure, but do not stop taking a prescribed medication unless you are advised to do so by your GP or another qualified healthcare professional who is responsible for your care

See treatment for low blood pressure for more information and advice about orthostatic hypotension.

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 are about to faint, such as feeling lightheaded.

Medication

Several different medications have been tested for the treatment of fainting. Guidelines for treating fainting from the European Society of Cardiology found that most medications had disappointing results.

Midodrine is a medicine used to raise blood pressure in some people who experience low blood pressure upon standing up. Some doctors also prescribe midodrine to people who experience fainting associated with this low blood pressure, to help reduce or stop fainting.

At the moment the benefit of giving midodrine to people who experience this type of fainting has not been proven.

Midodrine is unlicensed in the UK. This means that the manufacturers of midodrine have not applied for a licence for the medication.

Page last reviewed: 07/08/2012

Next review due: 07/08/2014

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Driving

If you have 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 is your legal obligation to inform the DVLA about a medical condition that could affect your driving ability. Go to the Directgov website to find out how to tell the DVLA about a medical condition.

Safety at work

If you have fainted, it may also affect your safety at work or the safety of others. For example, if you operate machinery, it may be dangerous to continue to use it if you are likely to faint again.

The healthcare professionals who diagnose and treat your condition will be able to explain to you whether it is likely to affect your work. If it is, you should speak to your health and safety representative.