A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

If you faint, see your doctor

Illustration of heart fainting

It’s possible fainting could indicate a serious heart issue.

According to the American Heart Association, about 41 percent of Americans have fainted at some time in their lives, and while common, it could be an indication of heart trouble.

“The problem with fainting is it can be a sign of severe cardiac problems, which, if not addressed, may be the only symptom one has before they die suddenly,” said Dr. Kelley Anderson, a Marshfield Clinic cardiologist.

Anderson stressed the vast majority of fainting episodes are not due to heart disease, and a medical evaluation is needed to confirm that serious problems are not present.

Fainting may signal arrhythmia

Fainting can be a sign of a severe cardiac arrhythmia, which is irregular beating of the heart. If you do faint, Anderson suggests you be evaluated by medical professionals as soon as possible.

“If the fainting is heart-related, then it probably is very serious,” Anderson said.

Anderson said the first thing he does with a patient who has fainted is thoroughly review their medical history and give them a physical examination. This history includes asking the patient for a detailed description of their day leading up to and after the fainting episode. Anderson also will ask witnesses for their recollection of events because a person who has fainted may have difficulty remembering everything that happened.

“All these details help us decide what the cause might be,” Anderson said. He added that the history and physical could be followed by an electrocardiogram (EKG) test. An EKG helps determine if a person has disorders associated with arrhythmias, like Long QT syndrome or Brugada syndrome, which are both serious.

Other issues fainting may indicate

Another serious heart issue, aortic dissection, could be signified by fainting. This is a condition where the main artery of the heart splits apart. If not corrected quickly, it can be fatal. However, this condition is usually detected prior to a fainting episode because people prone to it will often have had previous heart issues.

A blood clot in the lungs also may cause fainting.

Anderson said fainting during exercise is more worrisome than fainting when at rest. Fainting during exercise is more likely to be heart-related than other fainting episodes.

Heart-related or not, fainting is worrisome

Fainting is dangerous even if it is unrelated to cardiac issues. For instance, if a person faints while driving, that can be very unsafe. Any fainting should be addressed immediately.

“We want to rule out dangerous causes of fainting and see if there is anything that can be done to prevent a recurrence of fainting,” Anderson said.

If you have had a recent fainting episode, contact your primary care provider today.

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