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Should You Worry About Fainting?

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Fainting can be a sign of a serious heart condition. Find out when and what to do.

If you've ever fainted or seen someone faint, you know how scary it can be. Fainting can happen when your blood pressure or heart rate suddenly drops and you briefly pass out. Fainting (also called syncope) may make for good drama on television or in the movies, but it's actually very common in real life.

Did you know that about 30% of people will have a fainting episode in their lives?

Passing out after standing too long or discovering that donating blood sends you swooning usually isn't something to be concerned about. But sometimes it is.

Can Heart Problems Cause Fainting?

The best way to know if you should worry about a fainting spell is to see a doctor. At Temple's Heart & Vascular Institute, we see patients who've been referred by a primary care doctor who believes fainting may be because of a serious heart problem.

Most of my patients don't know that fainting can be caused by an arrhythmia, a problem with the signals that control the heartbeat. An arrhythmia causes an irregular heartbeat — fast, slow, skipping beats or fluttering. Some types of arrhythmia can increase the risk of heart failure, stroke or death.

Diagnosing an arrhythmia can be simple but sometimes it's not. That's why it's important to see an experienced heart specialist.

What to Expect at Your Appointment

During an exam, I check for irregularities in heart rate and blood pressure. I also use tests that monitor your heart rhythm. If needed, more advanced tests can reveal an arrhythmia that's more difficult to diagnose.

Talking with patients also helps uncover important clues of a heart problem or arrhythmia. I want to know:

  • What patients were doing when they fainted

  • How long it had been since they'd had something to eat and drink

  • Whether they have a history of fainting

Family matters, too, when it comes to heart problems and arrhythmia. Learning that someone else in the family has had fainting spells, a heart attack at a young age or even a single car accident can indicate an arrhythmia may run in the family.

What If Arrhythmia Is the Cause of Fainting?

My patients' first questions when they're diagnosed with an arrhythmia are:

  • "How serious is it?"

  • "What's the best treatment?"

Many arrhythmias are harmless and don't require treatment. Sometimes medication is all that's needed to control an irregular rhythm and symptoms.

More serious arrhythmias may require an implantable device, a minimally invasive procedure or surgery to correct the heart's rhythm and manage symptoms.

Can You Lead a Normal Life with an Arrhythmia?

Even patients with serious arrhythmias can lead normal, healthy lives with an accurate diagnosis and the right treatment. And as I remind all my patients: the best prescription for a healthy life whether you have an arrhythmia or not is maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle. Stay physically active, follow a healthy diet and don’t smoke.

Have you or someone you love had a fainting episode? Don't put off having it checked out. Schedule an appointment with a Temple Heart & Vascular Institute heart specialist today or call 800-TEMPLE-MED (800-836-7536).

Daniel Edmundowicz, MS, MD, FACP, FACC

Dr. Edmundowicz is the Medical Director of the Temple Heart and Vascular Institute and has a special interest in cardiovascular disease prevention. He is national authority on the applications of atherosclerosis imaging to cardiovascular disease prevention and risk factor modification. He has lectured widely and published more than 80 peer-reviewed articles. He leads public health and epidemiologic studies and participates in multi-center clinical trials. Dr. Edmundowicz is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology and past president of the ACC’s Pennsylvania Chapter. He is also a member of the American Heart Association and National Lipid Association.

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