Why did I faint or collapse last night?
January 23, 2011 9:59 AM   Subscribe

I collapsed this morning. I know you're not my doctor and I know I need to see one, but I can't afford to unless it's immediately life-threatening. Can you help me figure out what might be wrong with me?

Yesterday, I had a few drinks in the afternoon and had a big bowl of pasta with cheese for dinner. I fell asleep for about 6 hours. I woke up, and did not eat for about 4 hours. I went into the kitchen to make myself some food. While waiting for it to cook, I very suddenly felt extremely nauseous. I braced myself against the counter. The next thing I know, I'm on the floor, 3 feet away from the counter, shivering. (Note: it's about 65 degrees in my house, so it's not weird for me to be cold on the tiled floor.) I couldn't have been out for more than 2 minutes, and it was probably closer to 1.

I'm 22, female, not pregnant, and have no known conditions. The only time something like this has happened to me before was 3 years ago, in the summer, when I decided to take a hot bath and my blood pressure shot up (or something, I don't know the actual medicine of it). This felt very different though.

I'm kind of freaked out and something like this is hard to google and I've been watching too much bad hospital tv recently to deal with this reasonably. I really, seriously, really can't afford to go to a hospital. I know of a free clinic, but it's only open on Tuesdays.
posted by Night_owl to Health & Fitness (71 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you were unconscious for any length of time, you really should go to the ER. Leave you ID at home and give a fake name if you have to.
posted by hworth at 10:02 AM on January 23, 2011 [7 favorites]

The internet can't help you with this. You need real doctors. Go to the ER. Right now.
posted by fight or flight at 10:05 AM on January 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Asking us what is wrong is like my asking you to tell me how tall I am. You can't see me and I can't see you. For instance, the reason you had problems in the hot bath probably was low blood pressure, not high, so already we're off in areas where, without some judicious questioning by a professional, there is no telling what is going on.

If you passed out, there is something wrong. It may be an after-effect of "a few drinks" and not enough to eat. It may be because of a serious medical problem. I know what it is to be poor, however you need to decide whether playing chicken with your symptoms will lead you to a greater expense (like, say, hospitalization) or whether if you ignore it, it will just go away.

If you are this worried about it (and I think it is wise to be) seek medical advice from that clinic. If the symptoms remain or get worse, go straight to the ER.
posted by Old Geezer at 10:08 AM on January 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

You need to go to the ER. There is a laundry list of possibilities here, and some of them are serious and need to be ruled out.

Also, for your own sake, please don't give a fake name. If you have any problem that requires follow-up, it will be that much harder on you. Don't worry about your bill until after you've gone - then call the billing office. Most EDs have either sliding fees or forgiveness if you truly can't afford to pay for your care.
posted by honeybee413 at 10:09 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have been dizzy and shaky from being hungover, and from having low blood sugar, and probably from both. I have never passed out for those reasons. I have never passed out for any reason, including taking bad falls off my bike; breaking my arm very badly; and slipping on ice and hitting my head (did see stars from that one, and sprained an ankle). You need to see a medical professional ASAP.
posted by rtha at 10:12 AM on January 23, 2011

I've passed out right after standing up getting out of an overly-hot hot tub. I think that's easy to explain and at least somewhat normal. I don't think that's related to this.

This doesn't sound like anything I've experienced or heard about. I'd be worried, especially if I lived alone.

I am really sorry you don't have health care available without hardship - that totally sucks and so many people are in that position - but could you maybe visit an urgent care place and talk to someone and get your vitals taken at least? Around here that costs around $100 instead of around $1000 for an ER visit. I wish you all the best.
posted by fritley at 10:14 AM on January 23, 2011

Best answer: I am not a doctor, but if you are willing to listen to medical advice from strangers on the internet with no training, I am willing to give it. Certainly issues with your heart and blood pressure could be relevant. A dear friend of mine with whom I was watching football several years ago, suddenly felt nauseous, had a reversal and passed out. He had been complaining his elbow hurt ever since he played tennis the day before. Turns out when we got him to the hospital that he had had a heart attack.

I doubt you had a heart attack. But, blood pressure swings can cause dizziness and even a short blackout. If it were me, I would not do anything strenuous today or tomorrow and go to the clinic on Tuesday. I would also let someone you trust know what happened and ask that they check on you a few times today and tomorrow until you can get to the clinic.

But, remember, I am not a doctor, I have no training and I believe in taking what I think are prudent risks.
posted by AugustWest at 10:16 AM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Urgent care centers are less expensive than an ER visit--find one near you now.
posted by availablelight at 10:21 AM on January 23, 2011

This happens to me sometimes, though it usually happens within a moment of getting up from the couch. However, once I passed out in the shower after being sick for a couple days, which was worrying because I realized that I hit my head on the way down. Another time I passed out in a bar/restaurant after having half a glass of beer (I had biked 20 miles that morning). Anyway, I asked my doctor about it, and she said that my episodes are due to a combination of low blood pressure, dehydration at the time, and being tall and thin (I'm also a female in her twenties). Does any of that sound similar to you?
posted by Maarika at 10:22 AM on January 23, 2011

Dehydration can contribute to this. Overheating can contribute.
Step one, drink a couple of glasses of water maybe with a pinch of salt and sugar in them.

Certain medications can also make you prone to episodes of extreme low blood pressure. Check any meds you're taking to see if this is a side effect.

But it could also be something terrible, and worth checking out especially if you live alone.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:27 AM on January 23, 2011

P.S. My doctor said not to worry too much about it, and to sit on the floor immediately if I feel like I'm going to pass out (to prevent head injuries). Did you drink any liquids at all in between waking up and passing out? Dehydration could be a culprit here, especially given the booze prior.
posted by Maarika at 10:27 AM on January 23, 2011

I was thinking urgent care, too, but the one I found in New Orleans explicitly says that they don't see people who have lost consciousness.

I used to pass out from low blood pressure on a pretty regular basis. It usually happened when I got up from a seated or lying-down position quickly. For me, it was a really specific sensation. It started out with a kind of dark, sparkly effect on the outer periphery of my field of vision, which then moved inward. At that point, I started to lose my balance and would have to grab something or lean against a wall. Sometimes it passed before I was completely engulfed by the dark sparklies, and sometimes they'd completely overwhelm my field of vision and I'd fall down or slump against the wall. I don't know if I ever actually lost consciousness.

(I don't remember any shivering, but this happened when I was anorexic, and I was shivering all the time anyway at that point in my life.)

Also, do you have your period? I sometimes get nausea, shivering and light-headedness when I have my period, although not enough to actually fall down.
posted by craichead at 10:28 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a similar incident a few years ago (and have had a few incidents since).

The doctor's take on it (when I brought it up a few months later at a physical) was low blood pressure and dehydration. His solution was to prescribe salt tablets. Although that was after ruling out more serious problems like a heart defect.
posted by statsgirl at 10:31 AM on January 23, 2011

A few years ago, my brother-in-law blacked out in his bathroom, and woke up on the tile a few minutes later. He thought it was because he'd been drinking. A year or so later, the same thing happened--only he was driving. His car was wrecked, and it was a miracle he lived through it. Turns out he had undiagnosed epilepsy. He hadn't even realized he was having seizures.

I really, really think you should get to a doctor.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:35 AM on January 23, 2011 [8 favorites]

It sounds like you fainted. I don't know why you fainted. Only a doctor can tell you whether the cause of your fainting is life-threatening.

I'm so disturbed to find myself answering a question like this yet again.
posted by tel3path at 10:35 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

So no one was there? How do you know you didn't have a seizure? If anyone has a stroke they need to get to an emergency room ASAP because they can prevent further damage if they get to you quick. You don't know if you had a stroke.

What you should have done is right away called your local hospital and ask to talk to a nurse to find out if you need to come in. Most all hospitals have this "ask a nurse" service. If your hospital doesn't, call the next closest hospital.

Call them now and tell them what you told us. And you shouldn't be taking baths. At least not alone.

You should write down the ask a nurse phone number and always have it handy for yourself and any friends you have who may need advice. You should not have to make these decisions on your own or with strangers on the Internet. Some doctors offices also have "ask a nurse" free programs. Find out what your community offers.

And if you are scared about money call the hospital and ask to talk to the billing office and ask the person who answers "what would happen if?" I did this last week. I called the billing office and asked exactly what would happen if I had to have surgery not covered by my insurance. It was a huge relief to talk to them. Even though their answers were lacking. At least I broke the ice and started a dialogue with them.

If you do have to go to a hospital, most hospitals have a "patient advocate" who comes to your room and helps you fill out assistance qualifying forms. If it helps ease your mind, call your local hospital and ask them if they have a patient advocate.
posted by cda at 10:36 AM on January 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

I really, really think you should get to a doctor.
She knows she should get to a doctor. The question is whether she should get to a doctor today and put herself in a lot of debt or get to a doctor for free the day after tomorrow.

If it were me, I think I'd wait. But I don't think that would be the doctor-approved answer.
posted by craichead at 10:37 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Night_owl said: "I really, seriously, really can't afford to go to a hospital."

Can you really, seriously, really afford to take the risk of not waking up next time? Even if the problem itself isn't life threatening, you could fall and hit your head on something, fall into traffic, off the edge of the railway platform, etc.

Why are you asking the advice of people you've never met, who you accept aren't doctors. If diagnosing people were that simple, we'd all be doing it.

Get yourself to a doctor and explain about the cashflow problem. You can't afford to not do it.
posted by Solomon at 10:40 AM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

The NHS website has a run-down on fainting, but that's not going to arrest your fear that this is a go-to-the-ER situation.

(I've recommended before that people use Skype or something similar to call the NHS Direct line -- just say you're living in London.)
posted by holgate at 10:42 AM on January 23, 2011

Response by poster: Now that you mention it, I was most likely pretty dehydrated, I hadn't had more than a sip of water all day, plus the alcohol, plus the salt in my pasta.
posted by Night_owl at 10:44 AM on January 23, 2011

About once a year, I will be standing around somewhere (on the train, at work, at the veterinarian's office, never doing anything strenuous at the time), and suddenly start to pass out. I start sweating profusely, I see stars, I turn white like a ghost (according to others), and hopefully I find a place to sit down until it passes. I've asked multiple doctors about it, and nobody's found any dire cause for it. There's some sort of valve or sensor in my heart that gets thrown off, and decides to stop sending blood to my brain. Apparently this kind of thing is not terribly uncommon in young women, and is not easy to diagnose.

I obviously don't know if your situation is the same, but if you go to the ER there is the possibility they'll just say, "Yep, you passed out. I don't know why. Your X, Y, Z levels are all normal. Go home and rest." I think something more like urgent care may be in order.
posted by gueneverey at 10:45 AM on January 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

I have had such things happen to me when I am on my period and I haven't eaten for a while.

It's much different from the low-blood-pressure passing out that craichead describes, which I have had happen too.

The blood pressure one I can usually manage to stay upright, but the two times the fasting one have happened, I actually fell over and was unconscious.
posted by ZeroDivides at 10:46 AM on January 23, 2011

Do what cda recommended, and do it immediately.
posted by facetious at 10:48 AM on January 23, 2011

I'm 22, female, not pregnant, and have no known conditions.

Then it's odd that you are fainting and it should be checked by a doctor. It could be an expensive nothing - low blood pressure, vasovagal syncope, etc. It could also be something dangerous to your long term health - seizures, heart issues. No one here knows.

Go to the doctor.
posted by 26.2 at 10:51 AM on January 23, 2011

I really, seriously, really can't afford to go to a hospital.

This may not even be the case. Do you have a local hospital with a sliding scale?

Story time! A few nights ago, I cut myself pretty deeply. I hesitated over going to the ER, only because I don't have insurance and was afraid that I'd incur a big fat bill for just washing and bandaging. Eventually, I asked myself "If money weren't an issue, would you go the ER? Oh, HELL YES." It sounds like you feel the same way. You should.

As the doctor and nurse cleaned and secured my wound, which was much nastier than I thought, and gave me a much-needed tetanus shot (geez, I didn't even think of that! tetanus!), my husband looked over the financial aid paperwork and cheerfully announced that we appear to fall in the "pay nothing-to-little" category on the sliding scale.

Two morals here:
- If your income is low or nonexistent, you might not have to pay much, or anything at all, for an ER visit.
- you don't know how serious this is. You're not trained to assess that, and neither are we. The ER staff will think of possible causes and consequences that you haven't considered, and that's good. That's why you should go.
posted by Elsa at 10:56 AM on January 23, 2011

"Now that you mention it, I was most likely pretty dehydrated, I hadn't had more than a sip of water all day, plus the alcohol, plus the salt in my pasta."

WTF, plenty of people go around like that and don't faint, or have a seizure, or whatever caused your unconsciousness that none of us have any possible way of knowing about or treating.

I sincerely hope you don't plan on driving, bathing, walking close enough to furniture to bang your head on it if you fell down, or doing any activity that would be hazardous if you were to suddenly go unconscious in the middle of it.

Listen to cda.
posted by tel3path at 10:58 AM on January 23, 2011

I forgot to add - please tell the doctor that you do not have insurance and need to contain the costs. Many ER physicians will work with you and if they need to run expensive tests they'll call a patient advocate/social worker to help get your costs settled. They'll often grab you a bunch of sample Rx instead of sending you to the pharmacy with a prescription you can't afford to fill.

Really, there is no shame in not having insurance. Don't be afraid to tell the doctor.
posted by 26.2 at 11:01 AM on January 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm just going to jump on the bandwagon here:

Randomly passing out does not happen to normal, healthy people.

Yes, there are lots of not-scary reasons this could have happened. But there are just as many scary reasons. One of the Rules of first responder training is if you lose consciousness then you go to the ER. There aren't any exceptions to that.

I've had a dinner guest pass out from wine + new BP medicine, and we called an ambulance despite them being awake and coherent within minutes.

You really have no clue why this happened, and as others have said you don't know if you'll wake up next time.

Also, if you wait a few days then any other symptoms of this problem may completely disappear, leading to an inconclusive diagnosis. If you went immediately after passing out then your blood tests would have been telling. But now? Who knows why it happened, or when it will happen again. Maybe you'll be driving down the freeway and pass out?
posted by jpeacock at 11:02 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Curious you mention this. I am older than you, but female, healthy and definitely not pregnant. Friday afternoon I started feeling unwell, and came home, and had a very similar experience to yours – sudden nausea, almost blacked out, felt very cold and shivery for a time. Luckily I had a moment to think about sitting down on the floor before it knocked me over.

It's possible you have a serious issue, but it's also possible this is a touch of whatever norovirus/gastro bug that's going around at the moment.
posted by zadcat at 11:08 AM on January 23, 2011

Do you know if you regained consciousness as soon as you hit the floor? Sudden nausea followed by fainting followed by regaining consciousness in a cold sweat as soon as your head is below your heart sounds pretty much like what happens to me when I have vasovagal syncope, which, like gueneverey, happens to me (seemingly randomly) about once a year. (Though after the nausea sets in I usually experience tunnel vision and hearing loss before passing out.) I went to a doctor after the first time it happened and everything checked out fine. Now that I know what the signs are of a fainting spell approaching, I lie down voluntarily before I have a chance to faint.

So I guess I'm going to disagree with jpeacock's claim that "Randomly passing out does not happen to normal, healthy people." You should definitely see a doctor to rule out anything serious, but I don't think you should freak out and start googling for brain tumors.
posted by enlarged to show texture at 11:15 AM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Dear god please don't listen to the armchair medics here suggesting you simply passed out due to dehydration. Also please don't cling to that answer simply because it fits your budget.

This is highly unusual. Go to a doctor. If its something simple then it should not cost you much. If its something bad it might save your life.
posted by bitdamaged at 11:16 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do your parents have health insurance? If so, you can be covered under the new health care laws until you turn 26. I think your parents have to add you. Perhaps someone here knows more about this.
posted by mareli at 11:37 AM on January 23, 2011

Response by poster: I did regain consciousness almost immediately. I know this for two reasons: I was watching tv on my laptop, and I hadn't missed a scene; and I was cooking pasta and I know by the texture that at most I was out for a minute.

I will go to the clinic on Tuesday, maybe they can help. I can't afford $100 for an urgent care visit right now. If it happens again, I will see what I can do about getting help immediately. I don't drive and will refrain from alcohol and drink fluids for the next little while til I can figure something out.
posted by Night_owl at 11:37 AM on January 23, 2011

A very similar thing happened to me - including getting nauseous.

Several years ago, Mr. Ipsum and I were helping my parents clean up after a party by putting away some extra chairs in the basement. We had set down the chairs and were looking for the best place to put them, when I remember out of the blue I felt really nauseous. Mr. Ipsum asked me if I was okay, and I said, "I think I need to sit down" I was about to walk over to a bench, and that's the last thing I remember. The next thing I remember, I was sitting on the floor, and he was behind me, with his arms around me, asking if I was okay. It took a few seconds before I fully "woke up" and was able to answer him. He said that I had collapsed and he had caught me.

I was nervous about that and asked my doctor about it. He gave me some heart monitor thing to wear for a 24-hour period (with suction cups attached to my upper chest) to monitor my heartbeat for anything irregular. Nothing was found.

2 years ago I gave blood. After it was over, I asked if I could continue sitting up on the cot for a few minutes because I felt a bit dizzy, and was told sure. After another minute or two, I got the exact same nauseous feeling, with more dizziness, so I was able to call out to someone about what was happening. They quickly removed the pillow so I was laying flat on my back, elevated my knees, put a cold wet cloth on my forehead, and told me to keep my eyes open - I assume that was so they knew I was still conscious. Eventually the feeling subsided. They said that sometimes some people have a reaction like this to giving blood.

So I can only assume that what happened was due to a temporary loss of blood to the head, and somehow that's what happened the first time when I was in the basement. I don't know if this helps, but if the same thing happened to you, it doesn't sound serious.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 11:38 AM on January 23, 2011

I should add, if the same thing happened to you *just once* it doesn't sound serious. Repeated occurrences would be cause for concern, I think.

Also forgot to add, in the situation where I fainted in the basement, I was out for less than a minute, at least according to DH. So it does sound very similar to your situation.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 11:41 AM on January 23, 2011

Look, I agree you should get this checked out, but this assertion is just plain wrong:

"Randomly passing out does not happen to normal, healthy people."

It does; many of us have lower blood pressure and/or are prone to vasovagal syncope incidents. It sucks and sometimes leaves you with some bruises/goose eggs and can occasionally be quite embarrassing, but numerous doctors have told me that it's just going to happen to me and if I find that I'm in a phase where it's happening more often, I should eat more salty food. Yes, doctors orders to eat salty snacks! This is after all the tests - MRIs, CTs, that test to see if you're seizure-prone, etc.
posted by Mala at 11:42 AM on January 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

If there is a local hospital that takes indigents, they can assign a social worker to you to help you get medical coverage. Not sure how it works from state to state, but this happened to my brother when he broke his ankle, and had no medical coverage. There is usually one hospital in that will help you out this way. Call first, because if they don't have a public assistance program, you will have to cover the entire cost.

Have you had any other symptoms lately, like excessive thirst, high levels of stress, etc? make sure to tell the doc about all/any of these.
posted by annsunny at 11:49 AM on January 23, 2011

I know this for two reasons: I was watching tv on my laptop, and I hadn't missed a scene; and I was cooking pasta and I know by the texture that at most I was out for a minute.

A minute is a really long time, like a really long time. I am not a doctor, but I faint easily ( prone to vasovagal syncope with certain triggers. I'm 32, but it happened to me a lot more when I was younger and learned to navigate my triggers ( getting blood drawn, falling suddenly, suddenly bumping an arm or something). In college I fainted and my boyfriend called the ambulance and came with me. The nurse asked him how long I was out and he was like, uh, not long, like a minute. She was like, "Look at the clock, a minute is a LONG TIME. Look at the second hand. Now tell me again, how long was she out?" He kind of looked at the floor and mumbled that it was probably more like ten seconds.

Please don't mess with this. Go to the doctor today. Please.
posted by sweetkid at 11:58 AM on January 23, 2011

I also have vasovagal syncope; I pass out probably several times a day. 22 would be an odd age to develop VVS. FWIW, people with VVS are not *normal, healthy people*. They have a problem that leads to fainting. That's not normal. It may be common, but it's not normal. That's a person who's prone to falling down unconscious from time to time, possibly ending up with impact trauma, possibly ending up getting sent to the ER because someone called an ambulance when they passed out in public, and so on. VVS can be pretty serious, even if it's never caused a problem before.

Knowing that I have VVS, the docs were still really upset when I passed out and awoke twitching; they sent me right to get an EEG to check for possible seizure disorder.
posted by galadriel at 12:03 PM on January 23, 2011

Best answer: So I guess I'm going to disagree with jpeacock's claim that "Randomly passing out does not happen to normal, healthy people."

Sudden inexplicable fainting happens to people who have extremely low blood pressure or a tendency to vasovagal syncope, but who are otherwise normally healthy; however, low blood pressure and frequent vasovagal syncope are not "normal" and people who have them need to be aware that that is a health variation they are experiencing.

That said, it doesn't seem urgent to not-a-doctor me for the OP to break the bank in order to go to the ER to find out that she has low blood pressure or a tendency to vasovagal syncope or, say, anemia, if she can get to the clinic on Tuesday.

OP, get a blood test and get checked for anemia. Also, you probaby need to eat more frequently. And maybe drink less. "A few drinks" is a lot for most women, after all.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:11 PM on January 23, 2011

VVS can be pretty serious, even if it's never caused a problem before.

Yes, and you can also bump your head or something and not know it.
posted by sweetkid at 12:17 PM on January 23, 2011

Your profile says you just joined the Army National Guard. I'm guessing they've probably told you all about this, but just in case they haven't, it looks like you're eligible for insurance. As soon as you can afford it, it's probably worth it to join it. Military insurance, I think, is a good insurance to have. Here's one info link.
posted by lover at 12:20 PM on January 23, 2011

My boss passed out last month.

It WAS a brain tumor.

posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:28 PM on January 23, 2011

Best answer: Here's how you need to look at this: what is the most bad of the bad things that could cause a healthy, nonpregnant 22-year-old woman to lose consciousness? A serious heart problem, a seizure.

Those are things you need to rule out before you can continue on to the less serious things like dehydration or vasovagal issues. If you were my loved one or my patient, you'd be in the ER right now. The fact that this is a financial hardship really totally sucks, but at the very least you need to make some phone calls to hospital emergency rooms in your area and find out if they can see you on a sliding scale or set up a payment plan for you. Rule out the bad stuff.
posted by jennyjenny at 12:44 PM on January 23, 2011

Not a substitute for qualified medical care, obviously, but are you able to get to a pharmacy that has a blood pressure monitoring machine? It would at least be able to give you information on if there is some sort of issue there.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:45 PM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by Namlit at 1:05 PM on January 23, 2011

First off - I didn't read through all of the answers, but add me to the chorus of DOCTOR, NOW.

Two things come to mind: you mentioned an episode of high blood pressure. At your young age, you need to be checked for two things: pheochromocytoma, and primary aldosteronism. These are simple blood tests, under $300 or so for all of them. You also should get your potassium levels checked - low potassium can cause fainting or near-fainting.

The other thing that comes to mind is this: a coworker in her early twenties collapsed during a night of drinking. She turned out to have something called long QT syndrome, and needed to have a pacemaker implanted.

In short - this can be serious stuff. I'm not a doctor, but I am someone who had high blood pressure episodes at a young age, combined with low potassium and near-syncope, and I now know that ignoring it was not the best thing to do.
posted by chez shoes at 1:23 PM on January 23, 2011

Hey Night_owl, while I am decidedly in agreement with the "get to a doctor" answers here, it sounds like you're leaning away from that option for completely understandable financial reasons. May I suggest a compromise?

Call a friend. Ask them to come get you/come stay with you until you can see a doctor on Tuesday. That way if you lose consciousness again there is someone there to call 911, do CPR, whatever necessary to save your life.
posted by philotes at 1:27 PM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I used to randomly pass out or nearly pass out a couple of times a week. It turned out for me to be not blood pressure, but blood SUGAR. An internist was able to run a test and diagnose mild hypoglycemia and a diet that played right into it.

Nth that the important part here is that a competent medical person who could personally examine me made that call. I just mention it to illustrate that really, it could be a lot of things.
posted by ctmf at 1:31 PM on January 23, 2011

Echoing St. Alia of the Bunnies - my MIL passed out in November and it was stage 4 brain cancer.

I work across the street from a public health hospital where they treat the homeless - I am quite sure the homeless of Seattle do not have insurance, or, frankly, $5. They get treatment and they do not get turned away for inability to pay.
posted by tristeza at 1:33 PM on January 23, 2011

if you drive, then you need to be sure you're not going to pass out when you're driving. If you don't know why it happened, then you don't know it won't happen again.

If you pass out while driving, you could die and possibly kill others.
posted by amtho at 1:53 PM on January 23, 2011

She said above that she doesn't drive, amtho.
posted by craichead at 1:55 PM on January 23, 2011

That said, it doesn't seem urgent to not-a-doctor me for the OP to break the bank in order to go to the ER to find out that she has low blood pressure or a tendency to vasovagal syncope or, say, anemia, if she can get to the clinic on Tuesday.

And you're totally confidant that this is what Night_owl definitely has and not something more serious and time sensitive? Seems like a pretty scary assertion from an unqualified stranger. What happens if you're wrong?

Night_owl, you're being given some very bad and frankly irresponsible advice. jpeacock is correct that losing consciousness always always requires immediate medical care. Any first aid course or medical training will tell you this and there are all kinds of really good scientific reasons why. That is what a qualified medical professional would tell you and a qualified medical professional is the only person you should be listening to in a case like this.

This isn't a question of if you fainted or collapsed, you became unconscious. You didn't just feel woozy or faint, you woke up on the floor. Anyone minimising that as no big deal is flat out wrong. You, and we, have no idea what is wrong with you and this is such a vague (but alarming) symptom that there is no way that any guesses you're getting are even relevant.

If it happens again, I will see what I can do about getting help immediately.

Except that if it does happen again in the next couple of days you're likely to be hospitalised and that $100 bill becomes one of thousands, and the worst case is that you don't wake up at all. There's a good chance that whatever did this caused damage, even being dehydrated to the point of passing out physically hurts your brain and body, and you need to get on top of it now so that it doesn't happen again.

It sucks that you're being put in a financial situation where you have to make these kinds of choices about your health. But this is one case where you need to just go to the ER and work out the rest later. So stop justifying your bad decisions so far and just go.
posted by shelleycat at 2:07 PM on January 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Even in the United States of We-Don't-Give-A-Fuck-About-Other-People, they can't turn you away at the emergency room.

Yes, but they can bill you up the ass for being seen there. (hi-I-don't-have-insurance-either-and-went-through-what-was-probably-a-gallbladder-attack-untreated-at-home filter)

Night_owl, I'm not going to try to give you medical advice one way or the other. I do agree with philotes that it would be safer for you to not be alone until you can see a doctor about this.
posted by shiny blue object at 2:21 PM on January 23, 2011

I fainted once after going for an early season casual ride then carrying my bike up three flights of stairs. Went over flat on my back in a stairwell (fortunately on the landing), with my bike ending up on top of me. Scarier than the fainting were the sensations that preceded it, the nausea and the frantic feeling that something uncontrollable was overcoming me, like a heart attack. I was certain afterwards that it must be indication of a serious health problem. But I never did get it checked out, even though I wouldn't need to pay out of pocket to seek medical aid. That more adult approach probably would have been to consult a GP, but I wasn't in the practice of going to see doctors. Looking around the internet assured me that sudden fainting in healthy adults wasn't as unique an experience as it seemed to me at the time. For a time I expected a recurrence everytime I went for a bike ride, and even over-exerted myself some to try to test the boundaries, but it didn't happen again. The experience did leave me with a sense that I'm not really in control, that my legs can go out from beneath me at any time. I feel much more nervous at heights now, for example, than I was before it happened.

I have no idea what caused your incidence, nor what you should do about it. My experience is that in some people fainting can be one-off blood flow hiccups that don't point to any greater concern. But you can't really know if it's "probably nothing" without seeing a medical person. Doing so might bring peace of mind. It's more dependable assurance than Internet assurance.
posted by TimTypeZed at 2:30 PM on January 23, 2011

When you go to the doctor's office/urgent care/ER don't be shy about making it known that you don't have insurance or a lot of cash. Yes, the intake nurse or admin person will know that you don't have insurance but that information sometimes doesn't get passed on to the doctor or nurse who will be seeing you. It may cut down on some of the more expensive and unnecessary tests.

Alternatively, do you have a local doctor from a period when you did have health insurance? They might be willing to see you for little to no cost (once when I was laid off a few years ago, I made an appointment with my primary care physician before my insurance ran out. When my doctor found out what had happened, he offered to seem me for free until my situation sorted itself out and even gave me my medication from the samples closet). The health care situation in the US is fucked up, but there are some very sympathetic doctors and nurses out there who understand this.

I also worked as an administrative assistant at a hospital in MA where they had "free care" for anyone who could prove an income below a certain level. None of the doctors knew which patients had free care (they had a plastic hospital card like everyone else) so their quality of care was no worse (or better) than those who had insurance. You don't want to waste a lot of time looking into programs before you are seen for this, but it is something to consider. When my friend had a gap in her insurance coverage and got an irregular mammogram, she discovered that there was a program in IL that covered all or most expenses for breast cancer patients without coverage (luckily she was fine).

Some other suggestions for the future:
you are only 22; any chance you could be added to your parents' insurance (assuming that they have health care coverage)? I believe most plans now allow coverage of children until the age of 26 (and I don't think that they have to be in school but I could be wrong).

Can you pick up a part-time job somewhere like Starbucks? I used to know some artists who worked there on the weekends because you only had to work 16 hours a week to be eligible for health insurance.

Hope that everything works out for you.
posted by kaybdc at 4:03 PM on January 23, 2011

When I had a similar incident, my doctor ran some tests. Turns out I was hypothyroid and B12 deficient, and plain exhausted from it.

Get checked out. A simple blood test could at least rule things like this out.
posted by squid in a people suit at 4:12 PM on January 23, 2011

Add me to the chorus of people saying go to the doctor, and not to wait for it to happen again to do so.

I am a normal, healthy woman with a history of fainting. I've had blood tests, board tests, EKGs, and more, and not a thing has been found to be "wrong" with me. I have fainted in public, in private, in situations where it could be explained and in situations where it couldn't. I can tell when it's coming a mile away now. I still go to the doctor every time I faint (meaning completely lose consciousness), as soon as possible afterwards.

There are too many serious things that could be wrong for me to dismiss it as simple dehydration or low blood pressure.

Please take some of the advice here and go to a low-cost, sliding scale clinic (and look into getting added back to your parents' insurance until you are age 26). Your health is not something to take for granted.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:13 PM on January 23, 2011

Night_owl, I've me-mailed you with some info about sliding-scale clinics in your neck of the woods that are open on Mondays, so you wouldn't have to wait as long to get this checked out.
posted by virago at 4:48 PM on January 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

DO NOT FUCK AROUND with an altered level of consciousness. A minute is a fucking chasm of time to be unconscious.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:48 PM on January 23, 2011

I think the approach you stated in your last update is quite reasonable and I hope you'll let us know how it goes. I'll be thinking about you.
posted by fritley at 7:02 PM on January 23, 2011

Off the top of my head, causes of sudden loss of consciousness include:

-vaso-vagal syncopy
-cardiac dysrythmia
-heart attack
-electrolyte imbalance
-brain tumor
-Arterial-venous malformation
-Intracranial hemorrhage
-low blood sugar
-psychological distress

Please go to the ER.
posted by brevator at 10:28 PM on January 23, 2011

I've fainted a couple of times in my life, accompanied by the need to puke and void my bowels simultaneously.
My blood pressure is generally 90/60, so quite low, and I often don't drink enough. The times I fainted I also had other things going on, like a bad cold with a temperature or too much sun bathing. Just a data point.

If it's never happened to you before, and you don't have low blood pressure that is worrisome, though.
posted by Omnomnom at 10:49 PM on January 23, 2011

Just as a data point to counter the folks who are saying this happened to someone they know and it was brain cancer...this exact this happened to me and it was a blood pressure condition. Ask them to discuss your blood pressure history BEFORE you go in for expensive brain scans.
posted by melissam at 5:28 AM on January 24, 2011

This has happened to me a few times, always when I've been standing too long and it's a hot, stuffy environment. So, it usually happens at crowded rock shows, though it did almost happen in the shower once. It first started when I was about 20 or so, and has happened a handful of times since then (I'm in my 30s now). I do tend to have low blood pressure. By now I can recognize the early signs, and get to a cool place to sit down and prevent it from happening. I don't think you need to drop everything and go to the ER now, but do get seen when you can. It's probably nothing serious, but you should get seen to be safe.
posted by statolith at 8:37 AM on January 24, 2011

Umm...I say Blood Sugar. Especially since you mentioned the pasta bowl.
posted by lslelel at 10:18 AM on January 24, 2011

I sincerely hope that:
  1. it was nothing
  2. you got to a doctor quickly regardless
Either way, I'd love an update.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:10 PM on January 24, 2011

Response by poster: No more symptoms, I've been eating and drinking well on the off chance it was blood sugar or dehydration, and I'm going to the clinic tomorrow. I thank everyone who has helped me out with advice or stories.
posted by Night_owl at 11:27 PM on January 24, 2011

Response by poster: ...and on review, by drinking I mean hydrating, with water.
posted by Night_owl at 1:00 AM on January 25, 2011

Hope you're OK.
posted by tristeza at 2:45 PM on January 28, 2011

Response by poster: I'm ok.

I went to the clinic, but after a day and a half they couldn't find anything wrong with me. I haven't had any more symptoms, no more spells of nausea or dizziness.

AskMe has been great. Advice, stories, people worrying, even offers of help, which I sincerely appreciate. Y'all scared me into the realization that something I thought was kinda not a huge deal could have been really, really dangerous.

To searchers in the future, I would recommend that you heed the advice here and go to an urgent care center or an ER if you can. I couldn't, but luckily my situation appears to have been nothing.

I don't know what else to say except thank you, everyone, thank you so much.
posted by Night_owl at 4:21 PM on January 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

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