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Know What to Do If Someone Collapses

Would you know what to do if a friend or acquaintance collapsed while you were there? Knowing how to respond in such a situation is crucial to the person's recovery.

Medically speaking, a collapse does not necessarily mean a sudden, unconscious fall to the ground. It can mean a range of dramatic changes in one's consciousness and behavior. The person may suddenly stop talking or become unresponsive.

If a person collapses and doesn't respond after being shaken, call 911 or the local number for emergency medical assistance. Many times the prompt arrival of trained medical help can make the difference between life and death.

The following is a list of some common reasons for a sudden collapse, additional symptoms and appropriate responses.

Cardiac arrest

Symptoms: No pulse; no blood pressure; unconsciousness; and stopped breathing.

Symptoms: Response: After calling for emergency medical help, begin pressing hard and fast in the center of the person's chest. Aim for 100 compressions a minute. This is called hands-on CPR, a procedure that can be done even without training, the American Heart Association says. Give rescue breaths if you are trained in conventional CPR (chest compressions plus mouth-to-mouth breaths) and are confident in your ability to give this type of help. Continue giving chest compressions until emergency help arrives. If a defibrillator is available use it.


Symptoms: May be unresponsive or may respond with impairment, such as an inability to move an arm or leg, speak or understand speech.

Response: Call for emergency medical help, says the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Make sure the person remains in a comfortable position.


Symptoms: A loss of consciousness and falling down, followed by a 15- to 20-second period of muscle rigidity, then a 1- to 2-minute period of convulsions, says the Epilepsy Foundation. After the seizure, the person usually responds to shaking. Breathing resumes after the seizure stops.

Response: Unless you're aware of the individual's seizure history, call for emergency medical help. Make sure the person's airway is open and roll the person onto his or her side. Don't place anything--especially fingers--into the person's mouth.

Hypoglycemia or insulin reaction in person with diabetes

Symptoms: Continues to breathe; may not be responsive to shaking. Just before losing consciousness, the person may have felt shaky, weak or sweaty, and may have had a headache or blurred vision.

Response: Call 911 and keep the person comfortable, says the American Diabetes Association. You should not attempt to give food or fluids in the mouth of an unconscious person.


Symptoms: The person becomes pale and slowly falls down or loses consciousness for a few seconds because of a reduction in blood pressure. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the most common reason for fainting is low blood pressure, which can be caused by: 

  • Standing up too fast from a seated or lying position 

  • Prolonged vigorous physical activity or exercise, especially if the person becomes overheated

  • Fast breathing (hyperventilation)

  • Extreme emotional upset

  • Too high a dose of blood pressure medication or certain other medications 

Response: There's usually no need to call for medical assistance if the person is awake and alert within seconds. Do call, however, if you don't know why the person fainted.