Collapsing is surprisingly common – at least 1 in 2 people will suffer a collapse at some point in life. We asked leading consultant cardiologist Dr Amanda Varnava what causes someone to collapse and what a GP should do to investigate the problem.
What are the main causes of collapse?
There are three main causes of collapse: simple fainting, heart problems, and seizures.
When a doctor investigates the cause of collapse, they will always perform an ECG to monitor the activity of your heart. It’s vital that any cardiac issues are identified as they can be potentially life-threatening.
In most cases, the doctor can get a good idea of the kind of problem you’re experiencing from the initial investigation:
Signs that it’s a cardiac problem
The doctor will suspect a cardiac problem if:
- you collapse during exertion (i.e during physical activity)
- you collapse without any warning symptoms
- you injure yourself from collapsing
- you have a family history of premature heart disease or sudden death
You’ll be referred to a specialist cardiologist for further assessment. During this time you are likely to be advised not to drive.
Signs that it’s a seizure
The doctor will suspect seizure if you have:
- a sense déjà vu before collapsing
- major shaking as soon as you collapse
- blood in your mouth or confusion after collapsing
In this situation, you are likely to be referred to a neurologist.
Signs that it’s just simple fainting
Fainting is not as worrisome as the other causes discussed above, but still something that should be investigated and mitigated where possible. Your doctor is likely to suspect simple fainting if:
- you feel dizzy, sick, or clammy before you collapse
- you get ringing in your ears or blurred vision before you collapse
- you take quite a while (at least fifteen minutes) to recover
- you collapse after a hot bath, when standing, or in hot environments
Usually a diagnosis of simple fainting can be made on these symptoms alone. Treatment in this situation will mainly involve advice on keeping very well hydrated and avoiding caffeine. Provided you don’t suffer attacks while driving, you’ll still be able to drive.