Before I start, I want to remind everyone that I am not your doctor or a halfway adequate replacement for your doctor. If you find that you’re fainting regularly– whether from a diagnosed condition or not– please, consult someone wiser and more qualified than myself. What I am is a twenty-something-year-old girl with a history of fainting surprisingly often. In my case, this is caused by Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a genetic connective tissue disorder which is highly co-morbid with a form of dysautonomia known as POTS.
Fainting randomly has never resulted in injury for me, but it’s scary. It doesn’t feel good and it draws a lot of unwanted attention. However, while I haven’t fully eradicated the problem, over time I have found ways to manage it. Everyone is different, and what works for one person might not work for another– but for anyone struggling with the same issue, I can tell you what helped me.
Some of these tips are researched methods that I’ve learned from going to the doctor and reading about this problem for approximately a billion hours on the internet, and others are practices I’ve accidentally found helpful by trial-and-error.
1. Know your triggers
Make a list of all the situations where you have fainted and think about what was happening before you started to feel off. Do they have certain elements in common? Were you tired? Hot? Anxious? Hungry? Dehydrated? Tired? Shocked? In pain? Any of these things can be triggers that cause your autonomic nervous system more stress than it’s equipped to handle.
In my case, when I look back at my fainting history, one thing I’ve noticed is that I was never at home. I was almost always in a new environment or traveling. Because of this, I was more likely to skip meals, drink less water, and feel overwhelmed. Understanding this has helped me a) prepare for situations that put me at greater risk by bringing snacks and drinks and b) look out for the signals and feel less frightened if I start to feel faint, since I understand why it’s happening.
2. Recognize the warning signs
The first time I fainted, I thought I was dying. It seemed like this collapse just came out of nowhere. What I’ve realized since then is that there actually were warning signs, but I hadn’t recognized them for what they were. Every time I faint, even before the dizziness, I get a terrible stomach ache– it isn’t nausea, but more a feeling of cramping ache. Now, when I feel this stomach ache, I know that it’s time for me to sit down and take steps to prevent the situation from escalating.
3. Prepare your friends AND your script
Fainting isn’t only frightening to the person doing it– it can also shake the people around you who want to help, but may not know how. You may want to warn trusted friends that this happens, why it happens, and prepare them with actions to take. This helps reduce their panic, prevent unnecessary ambulance calls, and resolve the situation sooner. It also helps you take preventative steps, because friends are more likely to understand that if you start talking about being too hot or thirsty, it’s essential that you deal with those needs.
Unfortunately, you don’t always have a trusted friend around. In that situation, you may want to have a script prepared, or even a medical ID bracelet. I know that I personally have a few moments before the collapse when I know I’m about to faint, but it’s hard to think clearly right then. If you have a few practiced sentences to quickly tell somebody around you what’s happening, what you need, and what you don’t need, that script can cut down the chaos and confusion.
4. Beat your chronic illness to the punch and lie down by yourself
If you have started feeling the warning signs, get horizontal. Find a bed or chair or open patch of floor and lie down or put your head between your knees to promote blood flow to the brain.
5. Listen to Fort Minor’s Remember the Name on repeat
If you can’t find a place to lie down quickly, put in your ear buds and play Remember the Name or pump up music of your choice. Just say over and over to yourself:
This is ten percent luck, twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure, fifty percent pain
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name.
As far as I know, there are no studies on this, but in my experience, it totally works.
6. Salt pills, Gatorade, and H2O
Talk to your doctor about this, but many people who faint often have low blood pressure, or low blood pressure upon standing. Drinking more water and consuming more electrolytes can help you regulate. Learn more about it here.
7. Get to know the world of dysautonomia products
Many people who faint often have dysautonomia, which is an umbrella term for dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system. Some of the conditions in this group are common, and others are rare. The area I know the most about is EDS and POTS, but a little research can lead you to a whole world of products that can help you day-to-day. For some people, this might mean compression stockings to prevent blood from pooling at your ankles (you want it going to your brain!), and for others, this might mean a wheelchair or other form of mobility aid. To get you started, you can check out a few lists here and here.
8. Live *~healthy~*
Ugh, I know this is the worst one. It would be my literal dream to write that step 8 was a just side-effect free pill that I take every morning so I can get back to staying up late and eating macaroni and cheese twelve times a day, and that was all it took. The truth is, I’ve had to make pretty unexciting lifestyle changes. “Lifestyle changes” can consist of an exercise plan, a conscious diet, mindful alcohol consumption, and an intentional sleep schedule or anything else you like intuitively know you really should do. On the plus side, once you get used to these habits, you might realize that you actually enjoy how it feels to go the gym every day, and you might find new foods that aren’t actually bad. My trick is imagining that I’m a trendy Instagram blogger in a paid partnership with chia seed farmers. If you have hypermobile EDS, check out these exercise guidelines here.
9. Don’t rule out medications
While medicine may not resolve all of your symptoms, beta-blockers and other medications can help people who faint because of POTS.
10. Talk to your doctor
I know I mentioned this at the beginning, but I’ll say it again. Reading medical advice on the internet will only take you so far– these are tips that have helped some people but it’s impossible to give a blanket cure. People faint for different reasons, and you want to verify that your symptom isn’t caused by a totally separate underlying condition. These steps work wonders for some people, but might be ineffective or even harmful to someone else. Look for a doctor who listens to you, who takes your concerns seriously, and consult with them on the treatment plan that works best for you. If gatorade helps you, fantastic, but if not, don’t lose hope because you didn’t need the exact same treatment plan as some random girl writing a listicle for the internet.
Do you have tips on managing a rare disease? Share your thoughts, and your hopes with the Patient Worthy community!