Consciousness is the state of awareness of yourself and the environment. When conscious, you’re aware of your own existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings and what not. You’re capable of responding rationally to questions and all your protective reflexes are on the ready, most notably your airway.
Unconscious means a reduction in alertness or awareness. During a loss of consciousness you’re unable to appropriately respond to what’s going on around you. You’ll be unresponsive and not reflexive to activity, touch, sound or other stimuli.
A blackout is your lack of memory during an unconscious state. However, during amnesia, excessive alcohol consumption or other substance abuse episodes you may blackout, but your consciousness might be maintained.
Changes in awareness can happen without losing consciousness, such as confusion, disorientation or stupor. And being asleep is not the same as unconsciousness. A loud noise or physical stimulation typically awakens you if you’re asleep. Whereas, if you’re unconscious these activities will have no affect.
There are scads of health conditions and situations that can be a cause for a blacked out unconscious state, like:
- brain tumor
- heart failure
- electric shock
- near drowning
- pituitary tumor
- aortic stenosis
- brain disorders
- extreme fatigue
- migraine attack
- Reye syndrome
- sleep deprivation
- Addisonian crisis
- coughing very hard
- alcohol intoxication
- acute adrenal crisis
- metabolic disorders
- liver encephalopathy
- ventricular fibrillation
- traumatic brain injury
- heavy metal exposure
- vestibular hyperacusis
- hemophilia head bleeds
- pulmonary hypertension
- extreme pain, fear, stress
- bowel movement straining
- head trauma, skull fracture
- ruptured cerebral aneurysm
- brain hemorrhage, hematoma
- electrolyte, mineral imbalance
- standing still, erect for too long
- thyroid, adrenal gland disorders
- inhalant use, chemical exposure
- central nervous system diseases
- choking, upper airway obstruction
- severe tongue, throat angioedema
- infections ~ encephalitis, meningitis
- hypercapnia ~ often with emphysema
- low oxygen environments, stuffy room
- abnormal blood sugars ~ diabetic coma
- methane, propane, carbon monoxide poisoning
- drug intoxication ~ opiates, narcotics, sedatives
- allergic reaction ~ food, insect stings & bites, drugs
- sudden withdrawal of Parkinson’s disease medications
- date rape drugs ~ flunitrazepam, gamma hydroxybutyric, ketamine
Keep in mind that an unconscious person cannot cough nor clear their throat.
After a blackout or unconscious period, you may experience:
- confusion, stupor
- inability to speak or move
- loss of bowel, bladder control
If you feel like you’re about to lose consciousness, sit and put your head between your knees or lie down with your legs raised.
Inexplicable unconsciousness or a loss of consciousness for an extended period should be treated as a health emergency.