Fainting could be attributed to a number of causes, such as dehydration, hunger, or reaction to medications. However, can fainting be a sign of something far more serious, such as cardiovascular conditions? Moreover, can fainting be a precursor to a heart attack? Learn what science has uncovered between fainting and heart health.
Common Causes of Fainting
First, it’s important to cover some of the common causes of fainting that aren’t related to heart conditions. We just mentioned dehydration, hunger, and medication. Other common causes include:
- Panic attacks
- Emotional shock
- Epileptic seizures
If you feel you’re about to faint, you may be able to prevent it by lying down and elevating your legs. If this is not possible, then sit down and have someone bring you water.
Biological Cause Behind Fainting
Fainting occurs due to a brief lack of oxygen to the brain and a sudden drop in blood pressure. The medical term for fainting is syncope. Right before the fainting spell, people may experience dizziness, lightheadedness, or weakness overcoming the body. This is typically not a life-threatening situation, and all of the vitals return to normal within minutes of regaining consciousness. According to Temple Health, roughly 30% of the world population will experience at least one fainting episode in their lifetime.
Connection to Heart Health
Fainting may also be a symptom of aortic stenosis, a condition where the heart valves become severely blocked and unable to shuttle blood in and out of the heart. How do you know when it’s a sign of aortic stenosis, and when it’s one of the less severe causes, such as dehydration? A symptom of aortic stenosis more common than fainting is recurring chest pain. If this is something you experienced prior to passing out, then this may be a cause for concern.
Research has also revealed correlations between fainting and a heart attack. One Danish study revealed that people who reported fainting on multiple occasions over many years were 74% more likely to be admitted to a hospital for a heart attack. That’s not all; the same group was also five times more likely to require devices like a pacemaker or an implanted cardioverter-defibrillator.
When to See a Cardiologist
If you’re otherwise healthy, it’s not a major cause for alarm if you have a fainting spell where you can pinpoint the probable cause (i.e. not drinking enough water before exercising on a hot day). Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to see a doctor to err on the side of caution.
However, you definitely need to see a cardiologist if you have fainted for no apparent cause, and you’re at high risk for cardiovascular disease. You’re at risk if you meet more than one of these conditions:
- High blood pressure
- History of heart disease in the family
- Constant stress
See also: When Do I Need to See a Cardiologist?
Fainting in Men vs. Women
It’s worth noting that heart attack symptoms can vary between men and women. Chest pain and shortness of breath are common in both genders. Men, however, tend to experience more of a squeezing pressure in the heart.
Women may experience additional symptoms like indigestion, extreme fatigue, upper abdominal pain, and fainting. This is not to say that fainting is never a symptom of an impending heart attack in men. It’s to suggest that it’s more prevalent in women.
Seek Medical Help
If you faint and can’t pinpoint the reason, then it’s best to visit your doctor. They might refer you to a cardiologist depending on other symptoms, physical exam, and your health history. The fainting spell can be a simple case of dehydration, or it can be an early sign of heart disease. The only way to know for sure is by seeking help from a medical professional. In any case, you should never take any fainting incident lightly.
Dr. Corwin A Thomas is a top-rated cardiologist in Lafayette, LA. We offer quality care and treatments for heart and vascular diseases, including echocardiography, sclerotherapy, venous ablation, and more. Contact us to schedule an appointment or to learn more about the services we provide.