About 2 in 5 people faint at some point in their lives. Common fainting (vasovagal syncope) is a short-lived episode of loss of consciousness.
During a faint your blood pressure drops for a short time causing less blood to flow to your brain. This causes you to pass out. You may also have a slowed heart rate or a pause in your heart beat for a short time.
Before you faint you may:
- feel dizzy or lightheaded
- feel sick or nauseated
- feel hot or cold or sweaty
- have changes in your vision
- notice that sounds seem more distant
Common causes of faints include
- not eating or drinking enough
- standing still or sitting still for a long period of time
- getting an injection or seeing blood
- being unwell with things like diarrhoea, vomiting or the flu
- stressful situations; such as being very upset, angry or in severe pain
- very hot environments
- getting up too quickly from lying down
Some people also faint because of a severe coughing episode, or straining whilst going to the toilet.
If you are not sure what causes your faints it might be worth keeping a symptom diary. This allows you to record what you were doing when you felt faint or anything that could be making you more likely to faint.
You should seek occupational health advice if your fainting occurs in workplace situations.
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What to do if you feel faint
If you start to feel faint you should act quickly to stop yourself from passing out.
Lie down straight away and put your legs up on a cushion or chair so that they are slightly higher than your body. This helps to increase the blood flow to your brain.
These lifestyle adjustments can reduce the chance of you having a fainting episode
- make sure you drink plenty of fluids: you should have at least 2 to 3 litres of water to drink a day
- limit your caffeine intake (in tea, coffee and energy drinks) as this can dehydrate you
- make sure you eat regularly, have a good breakfast and don’t skip meals
- limit your alcohol intake as this can cause dehydration
- stop smoking as this can improve the health of your blood vessels
- get up slowly out of bed in the morning if that tends to make you feel faint
- try support stockings or full leg support tights
If you are with friends or family when you faint they should
- lie you down and raise your legs
- help you to avoid hurting yourself
- call 999 for an ambulance if you cannot be woken after one minute or if there is are signs of you having a fit (shaking or jerking)
You can continue to drive a car if you had a simple faint whilst standing, unless the medical practitioner who saw you told you otherwise. You should not drive a bus or lorry and should inform the DVLA if you drive one of these vehicles.
In all other situations please take advice from the medical practitioner who has seen you and inform the DVLA as appropriate.
What to do if you have further fainting episodes
See your GP if you have lots of fainting episodes so they can look into things further.
If you experience any of the following you must seek medical attention immediately:
- if you faint whilst exercising
- if you develop chest pain, or shortness of breath
- if you have prolonged seizure-like activity, or do not recover normally
- if you have any episodes of collapse without warning symptoms
- if you have a faint which was not triggered by your usual triggers
A video recording of future episodes may be useful if there is concern this was not a simple faint; you will need to ask a partner, friend or family member to help you do this, in advance of an episode.
Reviewed by Dr Thomas Shaw in September 2023, next review in September 2026.
If you need this information in an alternative format, please contact the Patient Experience and Engagement Team on 01226 434922.
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