Why medical professionals must take fainting episodes seriously

Thanks to television and movies, many people believe that the act of fainting is nothing too serious and, if anything, an experience to share a laugh over once the person has recovered.

While it’s true that many fainting episodes ultimately prove to be harmless, experts warn that medical professionals must not be too dismissive of them, as they could prove to be symptomatic of a more serious medical condition.

What exactly is fainting?

Fainting, referred to in medical terminology as syncope, is essentially a medical episode in which a person temporarily loses consciousness and spontaneously recovers shortly thereafter.

Why do people faint?

While a complete answer to this question is beyond the scope of a single blog post, experts agree that the causes can range from decidedly non-medical — emotional distress, witnessing certain stressors like blood, prolonged standing, etc. — to distinctly medical — low blood sugar, panic attacks, blood pressure issues, seizures, heart disease, etc.

Are there certain risk factors for fainting?

Some of the known risk factors for fainting include pregnancy, smoking, age (65 years old and up), recreational drugs, and certain medications like diuretics, blood thinners and insulin. 

Are there health risks associated with fainting?

Yes. First and foremost, fainting episodes greatly increase a person’s risk of suffering serious fall-related trauma, including traumatic head injuries. Furthermore, there is always the chance that the syncope could be the result of an undiagnosed life-threatening medical condition.

Is there anything medical professionals can — and probably should do — for patients who faint?

Statistics show that over 4 million patients are taken to the emergency room for examination after fainting every year. As such, the nurses and physicians in these usually hectic atmospheres must take care to conduct a comprehensive examination to determine the underlying cause of the fainting episode and not just make a cursory diagnosis.

That’s because sending the patient home without the necessary testing or even instructions to see their primary care physician could have devastating consequences, including a heart attack or stroke, or the misdiagnosis of a life-threatening condition.

Furthermore, it must be noted that these frontline medical professionals have a responsibility to ensure the patient hasn’t suffered any sort of brain injury, particularly if they fell while no one else was around.

Do you or a family member have a history of fainting episodes? If so, what has your experience been like concerning medical care?

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