Funny turns - not funny at the time

Most of us have suffered a 'funny turn' and nearly half of people faint at least once in a lifetime. Most are nothing to worry about but it's always worth thinking about clues that might help your doctor tease out a cause.

Most of us have suffered a 'funny turn' and nearly half of people faint at least once in a lifetime. Most are nothing to worry about but it's always worth thinking about clues that might help your doctor tease out a cause. Questions to think about include:

  • Had you started on new medication recently, including medicine bought without a prescription? (medication side effect)
  • Were you dehydrated due to not drinking enough, getting very hot or having a tummy bug? (could cause low blood pressure)
  • Was it a long time since you ate anything? (possible low blood sugar)
  • Did you feel hot, sweaty and/or sick beforehand? (this is common in 'simple' faints)
  • Had you stood up suddenly or been standing in a hot room? (this could be due to low blood pressure)
  • Did you have chest pain or palpitations before you fainted? (could suggest an abnormal heart rhythm as the cause)
  • Did you bite your tongue, lose bladder control and feel drowsy afterwards? (could suggest a seizure)
  • Are you feeling tired all the time? (anaemia can cause shortage of oxygen to the brain, resulting in faints)?
  • Were you feeling anxious and short of breath, possibly with palpitations, feeling sick, or numbness or pins and needles in your hands or feet? ( panic attacks can cause faintness).

TIA - a mini stroke but a major emergency

A TIA, or 'transient ischaemic attack' causes the same symptoms as a stroke, but they disappear completely within 24 hours - and often within a few minutes. As well as weakness of one limb or one side of your body, you can get problems with speech or swallowing, drooping of one side of your face, or sudden changes in your vision.

TIA is sometimes called a 'mini stroke' because the symptoms settle on their own. But it's definitely not of 'mini' importance. It's thought that one in five people who have a stroke have had a TIA before, up to one in 12 of them within the previous week. Prompt treatment can cut your risk of stroke by up to 80% - it's estimated that 10,000 strokes a year could be prevented in the UK by seeking urgent medical help.

Falls - what happened?

People who are older or frail may have problems with their balance and be prone to falls. But some people faint or feel faint because of an abnormal heart rhythm. As well as possible palpitations and/or chest pain, funny turns due to heart rhythm problems can make you black out with no warning or feel as if you're going to faint. It's important to report these to your doctor as treatment with medicine or a pacemaker could solve the problem

All in a spin

If you feel as if the room is spinning around you, you probably have vertigo. Sudden episodes are often caused by simple inflammation in the inner ear. There are effective treatments but they're different than for other kinds of funny turn - with vertigo, you feel as if the room is turning around. You may also feel or be sick.

Falls - what can I do?

If you have more than one fall, your doctor can refer you to a specialist clinic. They will check you over thoroughly for possible causes and consider changes to your medicines to cut the chance of future falls. Physiotherapists can help strengthen your muscles and improve balance and occupational therapists can help with home adaptations to keep you safe.

Could it be a seizure?

A seizure is caused by abnormal bursts of electrical activity in your brain. In small children, high fever can cause a 'febrile convulsion'. Very low blood sugar, high alcohol levels and certain medicines and poisons can also cause seizures. Almost half a million people in the UK suffer from epilepsy, which is defined as having more than one seizure. In many cases there is no clear cause, but sometimes a brain injury, stroke or rarely a tumour can cause seizures. Some (but not all) seizures cause loss of consciousness and shaking of your limbs.

If you've lost consciousness, always see your doctor and try to get a clear account of what happened during and just after the episode from someone who saw it.

With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.