Fainting (Syncope)

Diagnosis & Tests

Describing your fainting (syncope) history to your healthcare provider is very helpful in making a diagnosis. It is also helpful to get information from others who have seen your fainting spells.

Here are some things you should watch for and tell your healthcare provider about: 

  • What occurred just before your fainting spell?  For example, were you eating, urinating, coughing, exercising, or standing up from a lying or seated position?
  • How long did the fainting spell last?
  • Did you completely lose consciousness?
  • How did you feel when you came out of it?
  • Did you lose your muscle tone?
  • How many times has this happened?
  • Did you have any chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, or other symptoms associated with heart problems?
  • What medications are you taking? (This includes supplements, recreational, and over-the-counter medicines.)
  • Did you feel well before this happened? 
  • Did you have a normal intake of food and drink prior to this incident?  

On the basis of your history and the results of the physical examination, your healthcare provider will identify the test(s) most likely to explain the cause of the fainting episode. Tests you might have include:

  • Multiple blood pressure measurements
  • Evaluations for heart disease, including:
    • an electrocardiogram (ECG)
    • a heart monitor that you wear at home (Holter monitor). This device monitors your heartbeat while you go about your normal activities, including what you were doing just before a fainting spell.
  • A tilt-table test, in which you are strapped to a table that moves from a lying down to an upright position. Changes in symptoms, blood pressure, or heart rhythm in different positions can help pin down the cause of your fainting.
Because syncope can be caused by so many different conditions, your healthcare provider may perform multiple tests. But about 20% of the time, your provider will not be able to find a cause. Consider this good news—it generally means your condition is not life-threatening.

 

Last Updated June 2020