Are You Having Simple Fainting Spells or are They Actually Seizures? How to Tell the Difference

Fainting happens. Seizures should not. The symptoms, however, are quite alike and should be scrutinized to ascertain any underlying medical problem.
Differences in symptoms, when to call a doctor and remedies are discussed.

In an average lifetime, a person will faint at least once. This fainting sends family in a frenzy panic as they summon the paramedics only to find out the spell was an isolated incident which was not initiated by an underlying medical problem.

For instance, fainting while using the toilet is fairly common. Specifically when going “#2″. The stress from pushing will often cause a person to faint. There is no underlying medical problem when this happens and there is no need to call an ambulance unless the person is unconscious for a very long time or has injured themselves in the fall.

Although there are many different types of seizures and causes, the seizure activity which mirrors a simple fainting spell is what we will discuss here.

As a seizure patient, I spent many years thinking I was only fainting due to my diagnosis with Mitral Valve Prolapse. (This is a very common condition among women, usually is not treated medically and rarely causes chronic medical problems) The fainting only happened in the morning, after waking, or while using the toilet.

My Fainting Symptoms:

A very dizzy feeling came on very, very quickly coupled with occasional nausea.

I would see myself fall, usually, but was not cognicent enough to catch myself.

I always landed on the floor.

Waking up after the fainting, I would sometimes feel sweaty and tired… other times I would feel fine.

My Seizure Symptoms

Not until my husband saw one of my fainting spells did I realize it was a seizure. Up until then, a few years into my occasional fainting spells, I was always by myself in the restroom, getting ready in the morning.

Dizziness very quickly with an urge to slouch over forward.

Sudden tummy ache and not being able to see straight.

Sometimes feeling very hot.

Dizziness turns into extreme nausea. (vomiting before or after the seizure, sometimes)

Laying on my stomach or side in bed, I would like like after a night of drinking when you “fall through the floor” but you’re laying still.

I would “go to sleep”, sometimes feeling that I had banged my head or back against something but not being aware and I would wake up on the floor.

The unconscious seizure activity has been reported to me as being very stiff, a little shaking, eyes rolled back and snorting/snoring during the seizure which lasts only 10-30 seconds.

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  1. Nicely crafted article. Well done! I clicked you “liked it”

  2. Nice info….it will help people. Thnx for sharing..

  3. I have been experience something very similar about 1-4 times a year every year or two since I was in grade school. I would faint, be unconscious for 10-30 seconds, start to come to very slowly, often while vomiting. Unfortunately for me, every time but one has been in public. I’ve been to many doctor’s that didn’t find anything. Finally, after one especially bad one at a Post Office, I went to a specialist who said it was just your average ‘Vasovagal Syncope’ brought on low blood pressure (which is naturally even lower in the morning when you first wake up, which is why it generally occurred in the morning- for me, too). It really is inconvenient and scary, but I supposed it could be worse, too.

  4. Thanks for sharing your story, Andie! I am sorry to hear that yours have been after you’ve already started your day and were out running errands. Scary stuff! I worry about when I’m driving sometimes.

  5. Thanks for this article! My first attacks started around age 5, and the last one was about 10 years ago (I’m 30 now). Many of the same symptoms, always in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning, 1-2 times a month…I can remember being afraid to go to the washroom in the middle of the night because I’d pass out. The seizures started around age 10, and have gotten worse each time I’ve fainted. Thankfully I’ve grown out of the morning seizures, but will still have them if I pass out for a different reason. Thank you some much for writing about this, I haven’t met anyone else who has experienced it. It’s wonderful to know it’s not just me!!

  6. My wife had a brain hemorrhage in July of 2007. Since then she has had fainting episodes in the morning. the last two times I noticed that she just had a blank stare and was out of it. Once, she was lying on the bed trying to button up a pair of tight jeans, and became ill (her words), then she sat down on the commode and a non shaking seizure kicked in. She finally perked up later that day. The last episode on Christmas eve I was entering the bathroom as she fell backwards onto the floor and suffered a cut to the back of the head. She was taken to the ER and remained overnight. She is now on 1500 Mg of Kepra. These things seem to happen in the am after showering.

  7. I forgot to mention that since she had the brain hemorrhage, short term memory is sometimes a problem. She says she doesn’t remember how she feels prior to the falls/fainting/seizures. I don’t know whether fainting and falling bring on the seizures or whether the seizures come first. I watch her closely in the AM as she is showering and going through the bathroom procedures, I insist that she sit down as much as possible in the shower and when applying make up. Her BP this morning was 125/58. She sometimes has bouts of extreme exhaustion and has to sleep it off, but no fainting/seizures associated with this. This has been going on for many years, way before the seizures.

  8. My daughter experiences this also. She began with first episode at 4 years old, she is now 13 and they began once every year or year and a half. Now she has had 3-4 episodes since Sept. 2011. We have been to numerous MDs, many test and everything is always normal. this last episode was in Feb 2012, at school sitting at desk and she had another episode, fell to ground and hit her temple. She feels funny in her stomach, her vision closes on her, she can’t hear anything, then episode happens. Maybe 10-15 seconds, awake but extremely tired and out of it. this last episode she wasn;t right for about 2 1/2 days, still very tired, not herself. We are going for a second opinion to nueorlogy, just very frustrated of no answers and being told just watch her. :(

  9. very interesting story since i suffer from BOTH seizures and fainting spells. when i was 2 months old doctors diagnosed me with epilepsy. i was on medication until i turned 18 years old. i still had seizures while on meds all my life and told my doctor i was removing myself from meds by my 18th birthday myself. which i did. since then i am 50 years old now, unmedicated, and still having seizures occasionally. usually one or two a year but they involve sometimes drifting from one into another and vomitting. something that never used to happen. my seizures always happened in the morning when bloodflow was low. i ate my share of tubs, toilets countertops and floors as i collapsed uncontrollably. sometimes waking up in a seizure and then sometimes going into one or two more within a couple hours timeframe.i would be extremely tired and sleep all day sometimes not getting up till evening just to go tight back to bed for the night. the last year during the day i have had fainting spells that come and go. very weird because i loose equalibrium, get light headed and sick to my stomach for about 30- 60 minutes then i go about my day. if these are my new seizures i welcome them because they are not the violent experiences i have had in the past with seizures.

  10. Thank you for writing this! This happens to me at the beginning of my cycle too! We first learned what it was because of my husband’s several fainting/seizure spells when he was in his 20s. He was finally sent to a specialist who did a tilt-table test and determined it was Vasovagal syncope. Most doctors will just pass this off, however, his is so severe that it looks like he is having a seizure even though it’s not a seizure. They found that during this time his heart was actually stopping for 20+ seconds! They gave him medicine for it that he takes 3 times a day. His specialist says that in rare cases, Vasovagal patients even need pacemakers. If his Meds didn’t work for him, he would be one of them.


  11. Continued from above….
    My husband has not had one fainting/seizure spell since starting the medicine several years ago.

    Now, I have Mitral Valve Prolapse and starting having the symptoms you described. They told me I also have Vasovagal Syncope. I do not get to a full faint, so mine is not as sever as my husbands and I don’t take Meds for it.

  12. PS. When you described that you might be able to stop it by laying down and getting blood to your head…this is classic for Vasovagal Syncope. They say to put a damp cold cloth on the back of your neck or forehead, stay well hydrated and cool, lay down and bring your knees up to facilitate blood flow to your brain.

  13. Renee, My husband has had episodes like that throughout his childhood as well. I’m not a doctor, but see my above posts. It could be a severe form of Vasovagal Syncope like my husband has…that may require medicine. It’s worth a test anyway. Tilt table will diagnose it.

  14. Thank you for the lively discussion! I also have Mitral valve prolapse. Thanks for the tip on Vasovagal Syncope!

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