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What Causes Fainting Spells (Syncope)?

Medically reviewed by Nicole Aliling, MD · Neurology · Centre Médicale Internationale

Written by Mayvilyn Cabigao · Updated Jun 02, 2021

What Causes Fainting Spells (Syncope)?

Fainting or syncope is something that everyone is sure to have experienced or seen first hand. Some people think that fainting can be a bit dramatic, especially since we almost always see people fainting on television after a traumatic scene. However, whether it be fictitious or not, the reasons for fainting are legitimate and should not be taken lightly. It is important that we know and understand what causes fainting spells so we can better address them.

Syncope: All You Need to Know

What is Syncope (fainting)?

Syncope or loss of consciousness, fainting, or passing out occurs due to the insufficient blood flow in the brain. The inadequacy of blood in the brain is either caused by a sudden drop in blood pressure and heart, as well as the changes in blood volume in other parts of the body.

In some people, fainting can happen rarely and is usually not caused by anything serious. However, there are instances where fainting is a symptom of an underlying health condition like a heart attack.

What causes fainting spells? Read on to learn more.

What are the Symptoms of Syncope?

Before we dive into what causes fainting spells, let us see what are the symptoms you might feel before fainting:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache 
  • Nausea
  • Vertigo
  • Disorientation
  • Blurry vision
  • Face and body turns pale
  • Warmth
  • Palpitations
  • Cold sweats
  • Loss of balance or unsteadiness
  • Blacking out
  • Drop attacks or a sudden fall on the ground while walking or standing up

You can prevent fainting by dealing with the symptoms immediately. If you feel like passing out, you can sit or lie flat on the ground with your feet slightly elevated so blood can circulate properly in your brain.

Usually, when you pass out, you can regain your consciousness within a few seconds or minutes. But just to make sure that you are okay, it is still advisable to see a doctor right away.

What Causes Fainting Spells?

There are different factors for what causes fainting spells depending on the type of syncope.

Vasovagal Syncope

Vasovagal syncope, or reflex syncope, is one of the most common causes of fainting spells. What causes fainting spells? This type of syncope causes a sudden drop in blood pressure and heart rate. The triggers that may cause vasovagal syncope include:

  • Overheating or being exposed to a lot of heat for a long time
  • Extreme emotional distress like being enraged or being horrified
  • Hemophobia (fear of the sight of blood) and trypanophobia (fear of needles, injections, and other medical procedures)
  • Overexertion after exercise or any strenuous physical activities
  • Dehydration and skipping meals
  • Micturition syncope (fainting after urination)
  • Intense pain
  • Swallow syncope (fainting due to swallowing)
  • Defecation syncope (straining too much while having a bowel movement)
  • Cough syncope (fainting due to a series of vigorous coughing)
  • Carotid sinus hypersensitivity or CSH (fainting as a result of too much pressure applied on the carotid artery in the neck)

Sympathetic Nervous System Failure

This is a disorder of the autonomic nervous system, or the system which governs blood pressure and heart rate. Among what causes fainting spells are the following:

  • Orthostatic Hypotension (occurs as a result of suddenly standing from a lying down or sitting position. This may also cause vasovagal syncope)
  • Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (occurs when you have trouble remaining standing. You also experience increased heart rate)
  • Primary Autonomic Insufficiency (This is also called Idiopathic Orthostatic Hypotension. There are no other underlying causes for the autonomic dysfunction)

Cardiac Syncope

This is a type of syncope that is caused by certain cardiac problems or diseases and might result in sudden cardiac death. What causes fainting spells? The heart conditions that might cause fainting spells include:

  • Heart arrhythmia (irregular beating of the heart)
  • Congenital heart disease (problems with the structure of the heart due to a birth defect)
  • Heart valve disease (abnormalities in the opening and closing of heart valves)
  • Aortic stenosis (narrowing of the aortic valve)
  • Ventricular tachycardia (heart rhythm disorder)
  • Heart failure or congestive heart failure (the heart is having difficulties pumping enough blood to sustain the body’s needs)
  • Neurologic Syncope

    This is associated with certain neurological conditions. What causes fainting spells? Conditions that may cause fainting include:

    • Seizures (a sudden electrical disturbance in the brain)
    • Stroke or transient ischemic attack (blockage in certain blood vessels at the base of the brain)

    what causes fainting spells

    How to Treat and Manage Syncope?

    The treatments that can help improve your fainting problems will depend on its causes and the result of your screening. If you have found what causes fainting spells for you, then it’ll be easier for your doctor to find the right treatment that suits your needs and condition. Here are some treatments and management tips that you can take to help yourself get better:

    Catheter ablation is a procedure that can treat your syncope symptoms by using radiofrequency energy to destroy cells that have been causing abnormal heart rhythm.

    A pacemaker is a small device that is usually inserted in the chest that helps in regulating abnormal heart rate and rhythm. Other than treating syncope, a pacemaker can also help in treating types of cardiovascular conditions like congestive heart failure and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

    Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) is an implantable battery-operated device that is commonly placed in the chest. An ICD delivers electrical pulses to correct heart rhythm abnormalities as well as monitor and detect heart rhythm and heartbeat irregularities.

    Other Management Tips

    • Ask your doctor for medication changes as certain drugs may cause syncope.
    • Be extra careful when doing sudden movements.
    • Consult your doctor for a more balanced and healthier diet.
    • Make sure to not skip meals and always hydrate yourself by drinking more water.
    • Elevate your head when lying down by placing another pillow behind your head.
    • Avoid situations that can trigger syncope.
    • It is best if you are always accompanied by someone, especially when going outdoors.
    • If you feel that you’re going to pass out, lie down immediately, and raise your legs to improve the blood circulation in your body.
    • Consult your doctor for other treatments that can ease the causes of fainting spells.

    Always remember that when treating health conditions, consulting a medical professional is the best option you have. Ask your doctor for medications and treatments that are right for you and never self-medicate.

    Key Takeaways

    Now that you are aware of what causes fainting spells, it will be easier for you to address the condition properly. If your fainting spells aren’t a sign of a serious condition, then all you need to do is to avoid the triggers that lead to syncope. But if you always pass out due to medical problems, then you need immediate intervention to prevent further damage to your body.

    To ensure your safety and the safety of the people around you, it is advisable to treat fainting or syncope as a medical emergency that needs a quick medical response.

    Learn more about Other Brain & Nervous System Issues here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Nicole Aliling, MD

    Neurology · Centre Médicale Internationale

    Written by Mayvilyn Cabigao · Updated Jun 02, 2021

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