Loss of Consciousness

Loss of consciousness refers to a state in which an individual lacks normal awareness of self and the surrounding environment. The patient is not responsive and will not react to any activity or stimulation.  Syncope is the medical term for temporary loss of consciousness. Unconsciousness can last from several seconds to longer periods of time and occurs due to a shortage of oxygen in the brain, which can happen for a variety of reasons.

Brief unconsciousness is often stimulated by dehydration, low blood sugar, or low blood pressure.  However, it may indicate a problem that is more difficult to resolve. Syncope may be caused by serious conditions such as major illness (e.g. heart arrhythmias, seizure, or stroke), severe blood loss, trauma (especially to the chest or head), low blood oxygen levels, and drug or alcohol abuse.

Some warning signs indicate that a person might be about to experience a loss of consciousness. These include a sudden inability to respond to external stimuli, slurring speech, rapid heartbeat, dizziness or lightheadedness, and confusion.

Although losing consciousness is not usually related to life-threatening health problems, immediate medical attention is required.  The main focus of emergency care for individuals who have lost consciousness is to ensure they are breathing and have a steady heart rate. If the patient is not breathing, coughing, or moving, that indicates their circulation is not working. In this case, CPR should be performed and 911 should be called. Those trained in CPR may attempt rescue breathing, but chest compressions alone can also help. The sooner medical attention is received, the better the outlook for the patient.

There are potentially serious complications from loss of consciousness, including coma or brain damage from lack of oxygen. Choking may also occur if the airway is obstructed by food or liquid. CPR may result in broken or fractured ribs, but it should still be performed if the patient is not breathing or doesn’t have a regular pulse.

Syncope will often resolve spontaneously, but sometimes treatment is necessary. The treatment of unconsciousness depends on the underlying cause. If the event was caused by low blood pressure, medications may be injected to increase blood pressure. If it was due to low blood sugar, a glucose injection is administered or the recovered patient may be given sweet food. If unconsciousness seems to be related to an injury, the medical team will work to resolve it. It can be difficult to determine what may have caused a loss of consciousness, as the unresponsive patient isn’t able to provide verbal information. Health professionals must use situational and physical evidence to decide on the appropriate course of action.

Once an individual regains consciousness, they may experience symptoms of confusion, drowsiness, headache, light-headedness, loss of bowel or bladder control, and rapid heartbeat. If the patient has experienced chest pain, shortness of breath, bloody or black stools, a severe headache, a recent blow to the head, or a heart condition, they should seek medical attention. It is also appropriate to seek medical care if they have never experienced a loss of consciousness before, or if they don’t have a diagnosis or condition that would account for this symptom.

In order to prevent loss of consciousness, individuals should avoid situations where their blood pressure can become too low, avoid standing immobile for an extended period of time, and stay hydrated. Other precautions may be appropriate depending on their medical history.

Loss of Consciousness


“First Aid for Unconsciousness.” Available on: http://www.healthline.com/health/unconsciousness-first-aid#Overview1

“Symptom Checker.” Available on: https://www.drugs.com/symptom/blacking-out-fainting-or-loss-of-consciousness-2.html

“Definition of Temporary Loss of Consciousness.” Available on: http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=7662


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