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First Aid and Emergencies

Unconsciousness

Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

An unconscious person is completely unaware of what is going on and is unable to make purposeful movements. Fainting is a brief form of unconsciousness; a coma is a deep, prolonged state of unconsciousness.

Causes of unconsciousness include stroke, epilepsy, heat stroke, diabetic coma, insulin shock, head injury, suffocation, alcohol or drug overdose, shock, bleeding, irregular heartbeat, and heart attack.

Fainting is a short-term loss of consciousness, usually lasting only a few seconds. It is most often caused by a momentary drop in blood flow to the brain. When you fall or lie down, blood flow is improved and you regain consciousness. Fainting is a mild form of shock and is usually not serious. If it happens often, there may be a more serious problem. Dizziness and fainting can also be brought on by sudden emotional stress or injury. See Dizziness and Vertigo.

Home Treatment

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  • Make sure the unconscious person can breathe. Check for breathing, and if necessary, open the airway and begin rescue breathing. See Rescue Breathing and CPR.

  • Check the person's pulse. See Taking a Pulse. If there is no pulse, call for help and start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). See Rescue Breathing and CPR.

  • Keep the person lying down.

  • Look for a medical identification bracelet, necklace, or card that identifies a medical problem such as epilepsy, diabetes, or drug allergy.

  • Treat any injuries.

  • Do not give the person anything to eat or drink.

When to Call a Health Professional

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Call 911 or seek emergency services if a person remains unconscious.

Call your doctor:

  • If a person has completely lost consciousness, even if the person is now awake.

  • If unconsciousness follows a head injury and the victim is now awake. A person with a head injury needs to be carefully observed. See Head Injuries.

  • Whenever a person with diabetes loses consciousness, even if he or she is now awake. He or she may have insulin shock (low blood sugar) or be in a diabetic coma (too much sugar in the blood).

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