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Planning Retirement Online

Feeling Faint

May 2013

Feeling faintFeeling faint, even if you don’t lose consciousness, is a nasty experience. It can happen without warning, although more often you will have some short indications beforehand; perhaps feeling light-headed or shaky, blurred vision, yawning, sweating or nausea.

There may be time to sit or lie down and that will prevent additional injury from falling. In a more horizontal position, the blood should return to your brain and you should regain consciousness after around 20 seconds.

Fainting, or “blacking out”, is far more common than most people realise. It accounts for around three per cent of all visits to accident and emergency departments, and six per cent of all admissions to hospitals.

You can faint at any age, but it is more common as we get older. It is estimated that 23 per cent of people who are 70 or over will experience at least one episode of fainting..
Doctors often use the term “syncope” for fainting to differentiate it from other causes of temporary unconsciousness such as fits and concussion.

There are many different reasons why people faint and they don’t necessarily indicate any long term problems at all. For us to be normally active and alert, the brain relies on oxygen that is carried to it in the blood. Fainting occurs when there is an interruption to the brain’s blood supply.

In many cases, this is caused by a sudden malfunction in the autonomous nervous system – this is the part of the nervous system that is responsible for regulating many of the body’s automatic functions such as heart beat and blood pressure.

A sudden fright or shock can temporarily interrupt the workings of the autonomous nervous system, leading to a temporary reduction of blood supply to the brain. The lovely old picture that is often portrayed of gentile Victorian ladies fainting at the shock of sudden bad language or behaviour could well be based on fact.

A sudden drop in your blood pressure can cause you to faint. Sometimes the heart rate and blood vessels can't react fast enough when the body's need for oxygen changes, again leading to reduced ogygen in the brain and the potential to faint. This could be when you suddenly stand up too fast from bending over, or work too hard especially in hot weather. This type of fainting is very common among older people and in people who have certain health conditions, such as diabetes.

Being upset can affect the nerves that control your blood pressure, and taking medicine for high blood pressure can sometimes result in an initial faint.

If you faint once and make a quick and full recovery, it's probably not something to worry about. But if it happens more than once, it is worth talking to your doctor.

If you feel 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 and this requires immediate professional medical advice.

If you faint and also have additional symptoms such as an irregular heartbeat, chest pain, or if it takes you longer than just a few seconds to regain consciousness, then again you should seek medical advice quickly.

Basically, fainting is not a major problem; but if it happens regularly, or is accompanied by any other symptoms, then it could be an indication of something a lot more serious.

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