National Syncope survey

Do you take fainting to heart?

The majority of Americans don't. Although fainting affects an estimated one million people in the United States each year, a national survey released by STARS (Syncope Trust And reflex Anoxic Seizures), shows that one in two Americans are unaware that fainting could be a warning sign for a serious, potentially life-threatening heart condition.

According to a new national survey of 1,000 people aged 18 years+, most Americans rank dehydration, exhaustion and stress as triggers of fainting, but half of these people don’t realize that an abnormal heart rhythm could be to blame.

Only 39 percent of Americans believe that fainting deserves immediate medical attention

Many have yet to take appropriate steps to determine why they fainted:

  • 1/3 did nothing after fainting
  • Less than half discussed their fainting with a doctor
  • Less than 25 percent had any kind of medical testing
  • Nearly 2 in 10 don’t have the faintest idea of what caused them to pass out

Test your knowledge of fainting

See how many answers you get right ...

1.   Which of the following situations, if any, deserve immediate medical attention? Please choose all that apply

(a)  Numbness in your left arm
(b)  Sharp pains in your stomach
(c)  Fainting
(d)  Blurred vision
(e)  Dizziness
(f)   Heart palpitations or racing heart
(g)  Temporary hearing loss
(h)  Frequent headaches
(i)   Excessive sweating
(j)   None of these

A:  All of these conditions deserve immediate medical attention. Many Americans fail to take appropriate steps after fainting. According to our survey, 41 percent would not call a doctor after regaining consciousness if they fainted and 28 percent say the same if they were with someone who passed out.

Fainting is often the only warning sign of an abnormal heart rhythm, a leading cause of cardiac arrest—a devastating condition that kills 250,000 people each year. If you experience a fainting episode, download the STARS Fainting Checklist and discuss with your family physician who may refer you to an electrophysiologist (heart rhythm expert) for further tests.

2.   To the best of your knowledge, which of the following, if any, can lead to fainting? Please choose all that apply.

(a)  Dehydration
(b)  Exhaustion
(c)  Seizure
(d)  Fear
(e)  Heart attack
(f)  Abnormal heart rhythm
(g)  Stress
(h)  Hunger
(i)   Diabetes
(j)   None of these

A:  All of these conditions can lead to fainting. Fainting is a brief loss of consciousness caused by a sudden lack of blood supply to the brain. Most Americans know that fainting can be triggered by dehydration, exhaustion or stress, but only 50 percent realize that fainting can be caused by an abnormal heart rhythm, and only 44 percent know that a heart attack can cause a fainting spell.

3.   If you were to faint, would you be more likely to think it was …?

(a)  A sign of a heart problem
(b)  A sign of a brain problem

A:  Nearly half of Americans age 18-34 falsely assert that fainting is a sign of a brain problem, not a heart problem, compared with 39 percent of those 35 and older. Up to 50 percent of the population will faint at some point in their life, and often it is the result of an underlying medical condition that could be related to a person’s heart, nervous system or blood flow to the brain.

4.   If you were to faint, what would you be likely to do once you regained consciousness? Please choose all that apply.

(a)  Put my head between my legs
(b)  Call a doctor or other medical professional
(c)  Lay down or continue to lay down
(d)  Drink water
(e)  Drink a sugary drink
(f)  Splash water on my face
(g)  Raise my feet above heart level
(h)  Other (Please specify: ___)

A:  If you or a loved one has fainted, it’s important that you discuss your fainting with a doctor and provide an accurate history of your previous episodes. Ask if you should see a heart rhythm specialist (electrophysiologist) for further diagnostic testing. It’s important to get to the root cause of fainting. While some causes of fainting are harmless, others may be serious. Heart-related causes, including abnormal heart rhythms, are among the most dangerous. You may be at risk if anyone in your family has had an unexplained sudden cardiac death. Also, if you do not have any warning signs before you faint, you may fall unexpectedly and be injured. In older patients, fainting is estimated to account for 10-20 percent of falls that cause injuries.