What Is the Difference Between Fainting & Blacking Out?

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Waking up after fainting or blacking out can be a terrifying experience for those who have suffered from such incidents. Many times, you may lose track of time and wake up having no memory of the past few seconds or hours. While fainting and blacking out are terms used interchangeably to describe losing consciousness or memory for a span of time, the incidents are very different.

Fainting spells

The medical term for fainting is "syncope" and is characterized by a temporary loss of consciousness followed by full wakefulness. Fainting can also result in a loss of muscle tone that causes falling or slumping over during a fainting spell. Fainting is caused by a momentary loss of blood flow to the brain. Fainting spells can be benign but may also be an indication of a larger disorder. Heart disorders that affect the flow of blood through the heart often include episodes of fainting.

Blacking out

While blacking out is often a term used to describe fainting, it is also characterized by a loss of memory caused by excessive drinking. Alcohol impairs your ability to develop long-term memories and retain newly attained information for short periods of time. During a blackout, you may be able to participate in events with no memory of them afterward.

Fainting: What to do

If you are present when someone faints, it is important to place the person on his back and check to make sure the person is breathing. Restore blood flow to the person's brain by raising the person's legs above heart level, typically 12 inches from the ground. Loosen restrictive clothing to aid proper blood flow. If the person does not regain consciousness within one minute, call 911.

Blacking out: What to do

If you black out during a night of drinking, it is important to speak with friends and retrace your steps. Women are more prone to black out than men, primarily due to the way women metabolize alcohol. It is important to learn what happened during your black out since you may have engaged in unprotected sex, committed a crime or caused other damage to your life with no memory of such events.