fainting and heart health
fainting and heart health

Can Heart Conditions Cause Fainting?

Posted on January 19, 2023 by Henry Ford Health Staff
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Fainting is a condition that results in losing consciousness (also called passing out) for a few seconds. The medical term for fainting is syncope.

“There are a number of reasons why a person might faint, ranging from very benign to very dangerous,” says Ryhm Radjef, M.D., a cardiologist at Henry Ford Health. “But the majority of the time, an isolated fainting episode isn’t cause for alarm.”

Medications, low blood sugar, dehydration, fear, pain, physical exertion and standing up too quickly can all cause a person to faint. And in many cases of fainting, there is no obvious cause. “But as a general rule, fainting happens when there isn’t enough blood flow from the heart to the brain,” says Dr. Radjef. And that can be an indication that’s something going on with your heart.

Heart Problems Related To Fainting

When the cause of fainting is associated with your heart function, it’s called cardiac syncope. “A healthy heart is supposed to be strong enough to pump a certain amount of blood with every beat,” says Dr. Radjef, “but different heart conditions can affect that.”

Sometimes, fainting can indicate serious heart problems. In fact, a fainting episode can be the first (or even the only) warning sign of a heart problem. Some heart problems that can cause fainting include:

  • Cardiomyopathy: This is an issue with the heart muscle itself—which can be too weak, too enlarged, too thick or too stiff.
  • Heart valve disorders: Leaky valves or narrowed passageways in or out of the heart can cause blood to back up or otherwise not flow freely to other organs—including your brain.
  • Arrhythmias: A normal heart rate ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute. When your heartbeat is too fast (tachycardia), too slow (bradycardia) or too irregular (atrial fibrillation), your blood vessels don’t fill adequately and blood pressure drops.
  • Low blood pressure: Normal blood pressure should be 100-120 over 60-80. “Lower numbers mean there isn’t enough pressure to circulate the blood adequately through the brain,” says Dr. Radjef. “That can result in lightheadedness, unsteadiness or even fainting.”

What To Do If You Feel Faint

Most people experience some warning signs shortly before they pass out. Typical symptoms can include:

  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Clammy skin
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Feeling unsteady on your feet

“If you feel any of these symptoms and think you might faint, safety should be your first priority,” says Dr. Radjef. “Try to get closer to the ground by quickly sitting or lying down.”

If possible, elevate your legs when lying down or put your head between your knees if sitting. This can help bring more blood flow moving toward your heart and brain. Sitting or lying down also reduces your risk of falling and injuring yourself if you do lose consciousness.

When To See A Doctor For Fainting

Although most fainting episodes are not serious, Dr. Radjef recommends having a thorough medical evaluation to check for any potentially dangerous conditions.

Some fainting incidents raise more red flags than others. “If the fainting happened very suddenly, with no warning signs—or if you have a preexisting cardiac condition—it’s more urgent to seek medical attention,” she says.

On the other hand, if you experience one or more of the common symptoms of fainting (dizziness, nausea, chills, weakness), often after prolonged standing, and have no preexisting medical conditions, fainting is less worrisome. “Those cases tend to be less serious and are unlikely to be life-threatening,” says Dr. Radjef. “You should still see your doctor, ideally within the first few days or up to a week later.”


To find a physician at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dr. Ryhm Radjef is a cardiologist who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Centers - Sterling Heights and Second Avenue.

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