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Start > Doctors > Resource centre > Articles > Blackouts Part 1

Many patients will complain of having had a 'blackout' but this is a vague and certainly overused word. It usually means a loss of consciousness for a few minutes but is often used incorrectly. Patients will sometimes almost boast of having had one of these attacks. It has an alarming sound and to say you have had a blackout means that friends and relatives will be suitably impressed. But if you enquire carefully, you can nearly always separate the really genuine loss of consciousness from the supposed one.

In a fake faint, the patient's description is very vague. They say they felt dizzy and fuzzy and thought they were going to 'pass out'. They might also say they felt a tightness in the chest and broke out in a profuse sweat. The alleged blackout may often have gone on for up to an hour. During a genuine faint there is an actual loss of consciousness because the brain is temporarily deprived of blood. The attack is usually very short and is often caused by some emotional upset, albeit a temporary one, or by fear.

Waiting to see the dentist or taking one's turn in a blood transfusion clinic are typical causes, and they are not uncommon when a patient is having varicose veins treated. Very occasionally, a sudden loss of blood internally - such as from a bleeding stomach ulcer - may cause loss of consciousness and diabetes can cause alarming looking fainting attacks.

Teacher: Michael
Many articles taken from 'A word with the doctor', by Dr. John Windsor.

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