How to Prevent Dizziness/Fainting at Church

Episodes of dizziness or fainting at church are very common. The medical term for this is syncope or near-syncope. Without getting too technical, fainting at church or other public functions is usually brought on by low blood pressure, low heart rate, or both. It is usually called a vasovagal reaction. Feel free to google the term. There are other more serious causes such as cardiac arrhythmia, heart attack, or stroke, but these are far less common.

The most common factors leading to fainting are dehydration, lack of food, prolonged sitting followed by sudden standing, caffeine, a warm environment, and also the effects of blood pressure or heart medications.

When one is even a little dehydrated, the blood pressure can drop precipitously upon standing, or even more if one is on medication, especially high blood pressure medication. Such meds might include diuretics, beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers. Ask your doctor if your medications lower blood pressure, because certain meds for non-cardiac conditions can also lead to low blood pressure. A classic example is Flomax/tamsulosin for the prostate. There are MANY more. Again, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Lack of food can lead to low blood sugar, and also low blood pressure, because the sodium content of food helps keep blood pressure elevated.

Prolonged sitting, or standing, causes the blood to pool in the lower extremities. This alone can trigger a vasovagal response which can lead to low blood pressure, low heart rate, nausea, and sweating followed by dizziness/fainting.

Caffeine acts as a diuretic. After the initial boost in heart rate and blood pressure from caffeine, there is then a diuretic effect…..this then leads to low blood pressure, usually 2-3 hours after your morning coffee. Just in time for 11:30 AM Mass!!

Being warm, whether in the summer months, or because of too much winter clothing, also causes the blood vessels to dilate, pooling of blood in the lower extremities, followed by low blood pressure and dizziness/fainting.

Prevention tips:

  1. Hydrate well before church. Better to leave Mass to use the restroom than on an EMS stretcher because you passed out!
  2. Eat something at least one hour before you leave for Mass. Get some sugar and sodium in your body!
  3. Consider slightly altering the time you might take blood pressure medication, i.e. after Mass rather than before. Of course, get approval from your doctor about this, first
  4. When you stand up after kneeling or sitting, be AWARE of how you feel. If you notice dizziness/lightheadedness, sit down immediately. If that doesn’t work, lie down on your back and elevate your legs a bit. It might be a bit embarrassing to do this in church, but it could prevent a true fainting spell, and thus prevent serious injury!
  5. Wait on the caffeine until after Mass!
  6. Especially in winter months, do not overdress with coats and sweaters. This makes one get overly warm and can lead to fainting as per the above discussion.
  7. If you do not feel well because of illness, travel, fatigue… will be more susceptible to blood pressure changes from dehydration or medication. Strongly consider NOT attending Mass until you feel truly up to it.

Finally, some people are simply prone to repeated dizziness or fainting. If
this is you, see your doctor. Don’t ignore it!

Paul A. Tucker II, M.D.

Texas Heart & Vascular

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