People who have fainting spells are more likely to have accidents at work and lose their jobs, new data suggest.

In a Danish study, people with recurrent fainting, also known as syncope, had a 1.4-fold increased risk of occupational accidents and a two-fold higher risk of loss of employment: 31 percent versus 15 percent. Those with recurrent fainting who were young, had poor socioeconomic status or additional conditions such as cardiovascular disease or depression were particularly at high risk.

Fainting is characterized by a sudden loss of consciousness followed by spontaneous recovery.

The study is the first to show a significant association between fainting and work-related outcomes.

“We believe that our findings shed light on a hidden consequence of syncope,” Anna-Karin Numé, M.D., a research fellow in the cardiology department at Copenhagen University Herlev Gentofte Hospital in Hellerup, Denmark, said in a news release. “The ability to feel safe at work and maintain a full-time job addresses an indirect effect and cost of syncope beyond the usual clinical parameters such as mortality and hospitalization.”

Last month, the American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology and Heart Rhythm Society issued the first guidelines on fainting. The three leading heart organizations said that fainting could be a sign of a serious heart problem and recommend that it be evaluated by a doctor.

In the new study, Numé and colleagues identified 21,729 patients who had a first-time diagnosis of syncope that required a trip to the emergency room or hospitalization. Of that number, 49.5 percent were employed at that time and most returned to work within a month of hospital discharge.

Researchers said 622 patients had a subsequent occupational accident and 36 involved severe injuries such as fracture, amputation crush or internal bleeding. Accidents were most frequent among those working manual jobs.

The results may apply to similar Western countries, but researchers advise caution when comparing because of differences in health, social security and other policies.

“People with fainting episodes should be evaluated medically and have appropriate interventions to help them maintain their employment and keep safe at work. In general, syncope can be managed, and workplace risks might be managed by a change in job duties, such as avoidance of operating heavy equipment,”  Numé said.

“We hope that our findings will stimulate more research to examine why syncope is associated with adverse employment outcomes and to identify and test preventive strategies. Until then, we urge physicians to ask patients with syncope about their work to reduce any adverse consequences of syncope and educate them about underlying mechanisms and coping strategies.”

The study is published in the AHA journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.