Passing out or fainting―also known by the medical term syncope―is common among young people, especially teenagers.
As many as 1 in 4 healthy children and adolescents have fainted at some point. Has your child?
Although the experience can be frightening, it’s usually not caused by anything serious. Most young people recover quickly after fainting, typically in less than one minute.
|It’s important for parents to learn about common fainting triggers such as dehydration and get prompt treatment when needed. A visit to the pediatrician or cardiologist may be necessary to rule out rare but potentially serious causes of fainting.|
What causes a healthy child to faint?
Most often, fainting happens in otherwise healthy children when there is a temporary drop in the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain (blood pressure). Usually, the child recovers quickly. This is called simple fainting.
The choking game: beware of dangerous internet challenges!The “choking game,” the “fainting game,” “pass out,” and “blackout”―names of a few of the dangerous internet challenges on social media where kids try to fainting on purpose. The “challenge” involves cutting off blood and oxygen to the brain by wrapping a belt or a similar object around the neck to experience a “high” when letting go.Statistics compiled by the non-profit group Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play (GASP) show hundreds of adolescents worldwide have died from the choking game during the past two decades. Middle school students with symptoms of depression or behavior problems may be at an especially high risk of playing the choking game, according to a recent study.Signs your child might be trying it include bloodshot eyes and frequent headaches. Talk with your kids about how internet challenges that may seem harmless and funny can easily land them in the emergency room.
Triggers for simple fainting can include:
- Not drinking enough fluids―especially during hot weather or in overheated spaces. Dehydration is the most common cause of fainting in children. Not drinking enough fluids also reduces blood volume and lowers blood pressure.
- Standing still for a long time in one place. This can cause the blood to pool in the legs because of gravity or standing up quickly.
- Overheating―especially in overcrowded environments.
- Strong emotions in response to pain, blood, or something shocking or scary. This can cause the part of the brain that controls blood pressure, breathing rate, and heart rate to suddenly switch gears and get out of sync.
- Hyperventilating or breathing too fast. This can happen due to anxiety or fear, because it causes rapid changes in our blood supply to the brain.
- Breath-holding spells. These are common in young children during temper tantrums or when they are in pain. Breath-holding spells generally are not serious, and most children outgrow them by 6 years of age.
- Certain movements, such as coughing, swallowing, weight lifting, going to the bathroom, or even hair-grooming may stretch or press on sensitive nerve endings. This trigger is rare and usually affects teens; with the vast majority outgrowing it.
What are some warning signs and symptoms before fainting?
About 5 to 10 seconds before fainting, there are a number of warning signs including:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- A surge of warmth and sweating, or sudden cold feeling
- Blurry or spotty vision
- “Ringing” in the ears
- Pale or ashy appearance
- Faster heart rate (called tachycardia)
If my child has fainted before, should I tell her teachers and coaches?
Yes. They can help watch for signs and help her to the floor if it happens again and help avoid risks like having her stand at the end of a row in crowded bleachers.
What to do when a child faints:1. If possible, try to catch and ease a child to the floor.2. Have the child raise both legs for 10 minutes while lying down.If the child has food in her mouth, lay her on her side with her face turned toward the floor so she does not choke on the food.3. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department if the child:Isn’t waking up after a short amount of time
Has injuries from the fall and is bleeding a lot
Fainted suddenly after taking medicine, being stung by an insect, or eating something she may be allergic to
Was exercising when they fainted
Is having trouble breathing, talking, or moving
Can fainting be a sign of a more serious medical condition?
In some cases, fainting can be a sign of an underlying health problem or condition, such as:
- Iron-deficiency. Anemia, when there’s insufficient iron in the blood to deliver enough oxygen to brain, can cause of fainting in rapidly growing teens—especially girls who get heavy periods.
- Internal bleeding. A blow to the head (such as a concussion) or belly.
- Diabetes. Sudden drops in blood sugar can cause fainting. The brain needs sugar for energy. Diabetes also can cause increased urination that leads to dehydration. If a child with diabetes faints, it is considered a diabetic emergency. Use this form from “Helping the Student with Diabetes Succeed: A Guide for School Personnel” to prepare a hypoglycemia emergency care plan.
- Eating disorders. Anorexia and bulimia can cause fainting from dehydration, low blood sugar, and changes in blood pressure or circulation caused by starvation, vomiting, or over exercising.
- Heart issues. Irregular heartbeats (cardiac arrythmia) or structural problems (heart or valve) can cause fainting. Fainting that happens during exercise always needs medical follow-up.
- Migraines. Fainting is a symptom of certain types of migraine headaches.
- Alcohol and drug use. Alcohol makes blood vessels dilate or widen which can cause the blood pressure to drop. Some illegal drugs, like methamphetamines, affect heart function and can lead to fainting.
- Pregnancy. Changes to the circulatory system in pregnancy can affect blood pressure and increase the body’s need for fluids.
- Postural orthostasis tachycardia syndrome (POTS). This condition affects an estimated 1 in 100 teens who get a rapid heartbeat and lightheadedness or fainting when standing, especially after lying down. Episodes often start after viral illness, trauma, or major surgery.
- Addison’s Disease/adrenal insufficiency. Children with this condition don’t produce enough hormones, such as cortisol, that help control the response to stress, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.
How is more serious fainting diagnosed and treated?
For child who faints on several occasions, or if there are signs of a more serious medical condition, your pediatrician may refer your child to a pediatric cardiologist. While there, your child may receive various kinds of heart tests.
Red flag symptoms of possible heart issues with fainting:
- Fainting during exercise
- Abnormal or especially fast heartbeats, particularly if they occur prior to fainting
- Family history of sudden cardiac death. Your pediatrician may ask about any close relatives who died from unintentional injuries or drowning, which may have involved cardiac-related fainting.
Can I prevent my child from fainting?
Your pediatrician can recommend ways to help prevent simple fainting.
Here are some ideas:
- Stay hydrated and eat well. Make sure your child drinks plenty of water or other healthy beverages each day. Limit caffeine and avoid skipping meals.
- Monitor blood pressure. If your child’s blood pressure is low or normal, your pediatrician may suggest a change in his or her diet. .
- Flex muscles in the legs, shift positions, and bend at the waist occasionally when standing for a long time to help circulation and blood flow to the brain.
- Take breaks from the heat. Avoid standing for long periods in warm environments, such as practice fields in the sun or crowded places. Limit time in hot showers, saunas, hot tubs, and Jacuzzis.
- Help your child learn to recognize the early signs of fainting. When his symptoms start, remind him to put his head between his legs or lay down.
Are there medications to help prevent fainting?
Medications may be prescribed in certain cases. Some types of steroids, beta blockers, and anti-arrhythmic drugs and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) anti-depressants may help some patients. More research is needed to determine the effectiveness of these medications in children and teens.
Most children and teens who faint recover quickly and without any lasting harm. Knowing how to help prevent fainting spells, like getting plenty of fluids, can help avoid the scary experience of passing out. Any time your child does faint, be sure to tell your pediatrician.