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Fainting is a sudden brief attack of suspended animation, due to the supply of blood to the brain becoming momentarily insufficient.
The person about to faint turns pale and staggers or leans against the nearest support; the eyelids tremble or close and the pulse fails, while the breathing becomes shallow and irregular; in some cases vomiting occurs. At the same time there is a sinking feeling in the stomach, and increasing weakness and giddiness; the power of hearing is quickly lost, though a drumming in the ears may at. first be noticed; the sense of touch is impaired and vision becomes indistinct.
The blurred surroundings then pass into blackness, the muscles relax and the patient falls unconscious to the ground. He lies completely inert and limp; the skin is cold and clammy, the pulse is weak and may even be absent. Respiration may be imperceptible or it may occur as an occasional weak sigh.
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Deep breathing, with slight movements of the hands or lips, is usually the first sign of returning consciousness The pulse recovers its volume and the returning blood brings colour to the blanched cheeks, warmth to the cold extremities. Within a few seconds the patient is able to see and hear; shortly afterwards the power of movement returns; there is a moment or two of confusion and the fainting fit is over.
Fainting is most commonly caused by the stagnant air of over crowded rooms, by overexertion in hot weather, or by getting into the upright position when weak from disease (postural hypotension). It may also result from bleeding, injury or starvation. Sometimes a fainting attack is occasioned by violent emotional disturbance due to fright or horror. By reflex action through the uervous system such disturbances as indigestion, intestinal worms or slight accidcnts may induce fainting. Contrary to the general belief, fainting is not usually an indication of heart disease or heart weakness.
If the patient has not fallen, he must be immediately removed from the conditions which caused the faintness, preferably to fresh open air, and laid on the back. If circumstances do not allow of removal, the atmosphere must be rendered as pure as possible by throwing open windows and doors, as well as by preventing people from crowding around. At the same time the clothes should be loosened around the neck and chest. Stimulants such as will increase the force of the heart beat should be provided. When the patient can swallow, a few teaspoonsful of brandy or other spirit may be given either pure or in water. Sal volatile or eau-de-Cologne serve equally well as smelling salts or strong perfumes, fanning or the application of spirits to the temples and hands are other means for stimulating the heart by reflex action through the nervous system. Bathing the face with cold water acts in the same manner. It is important that the patient should not assume the erect attitude hastily, or attempt any exertion until after a rest.
The patient should be laid absolutely on his back, either in the open air or in a place that allows the circulation of air. Clothing should be lcosened, and smelling salts held to the nostrils.
The full development of a fainting fit may sometimes be prevented by forcibly bending foxward the sitting patient so that the head is brought down between the knees. The blood supply to the brain is increased by this position, and thus the Attack may be cut short before unconsciousness occur. See Dizziness; Shock; Unconsciousness.