Treatment for fainting (syncope) will depend on whether there is an underlying cause. See Fainting - causes for more information about the possible causes of fainting.
Treating the underlying cause
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 (where there is too much glucose in the blood) you may be advised to take regular exercise and eat a healthy diet.
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 neurally mediated syncope
Neurally mediated syncope, also called reflex syncope, includes:
- vasovagal syncope
- situational syncope
- carotid sinus syndrome
Treatment for neurally mediated syncope 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 If someone is about to faint for more information.
Vasovagal syncope occurs when something triggers a temporary malfunction in your autonomic nervous system. This is the part of the nervous system that is responsible for regulating many of the body's automatic functions, such as heartbeat and blood pressure.
In most cases of vasovagal syncope, further treatment is not required. However, you may find it useful to avoid potential triggers, such as:
- spending a long time on your feet
- hot and stuffy environments
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.
Situational syncope is caused by a bodily function or activity that places a sudden strain on your autonomic nervous system, such as sneezing or laughing. 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 the Health A-Z topic about Pacemaker implantation for more information about the procedure.
Treating orthostatic hypotension
Orthostatic hypotension is a type of fainting that occurs when you stand up suddenly. This is because your nervous system does not stabilise your blood pressure quickly enough. 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 the Health A-Z topic about Low blood pressure - treatment for more information and advice about orthostatic hypotension.
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.
The data suggested that taking medication long term for occasional fainting is not effective. However, taking a single dose of a medication before an activity that is known to trigger fainting might work. For example, taking a dose of medicine an hour before you know you will be standing for a long period of time may prevent you from fainting.
At the moment this theory has not been proven. The medication in question, midodrine, is also unlicensed in the UK. This means that the manufacturers of midodrine have not applied for a licence for the medication. In other words, the medication has not undergone clinical trials (a type of research that tests one treatment against another) to see if it is effective and safe.
If someone is about to faint
If you know or suspect that someone is going to faint, you should help the person to lie down, preferably in a position where their head is low and their legs are raised.
If it is not possible for the person who is feeling faint to lie down, sit them down with their head between their knees. Gently, but firmly, push their head down while they try to push their head upwards. This will encourage the blood to flow to their brain, reducing their symptoms and helping them to recover more quickly.
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 just under a third of people who fainted regularly who were trained in physical counterpressure manoeuvres fainted within a year, compared with half of those who were not trained in using these measures.
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.
If someone has fainted
If a person faints and does not regain consciousness within one or 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.