Cedars-Sinai Blog

Fainting vs. Seizure: How to Tell the Difference

loss of consciousness, seizure, fainting, blackout, causes


Seizures

Why they happen: Seizures happen when there's a disturbance in the normal electrical activity in the brain. An estimated 10% of people experience an unprovoked seizure during their lifetime—and when it happens, it can be terrifying. 

What they look like: Seizures can look different depending on which part of the brain is affected. 

You may or may not lose consciousness. You might shake violently or stare into space unable to recognize your own name. 

And while the symptoms can last for a full minute or more, you'll probably have no memory of the experience. 

What you should you do: If you see someone experiencing a seizure, get them to the floor if they aren't already lying down and move hard and sharp objects away from them.

Don't put anything in their mouths.

Don't attempt to restrain them or hold them down, but instead wait for the seizure to end. Then make sure a medical professional evaluates them. 



Fainting

What you should do: While you may recover quickly and fully from a fainting spell, you should always tell your doctor about the episode. 

"It could be a sign of an underlying heart problem, so it's important to visit a health professional for a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan," Dr. Chung says.

If you feel faint, lie down, or if you're sitting, place your head between your knees. 

If you see someone else faint, place the person face up and raise their legs above their heart level. If the person doesn't "come to" within 1 minute, call 911.

Seizure vs. fainting
Seizure specifics
Fainting specifics
Get it under control

Determining the underlying cause of fainting or a seizure usually requires a visit to your doctor, who will likely do cardiac and neurological tests.