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Syncope in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.

What is syncope?

Syncope is also called fainting or passing out. Syncope is a sudden, temporary loss of consciousness, followed by a fall from a standing or sitting position. Syncope is usually not a serious problem, and children usually recover quickly after an episode. Syncope can sometimes be a sign of a medical condition that needs to be treated.

What causes or increases my child's risk for syncope?

Syncope may happen when your child holds his or her breath. The following are other common causes in children:

  • Straining during bowel movements, a cough or sneeze, or a stressful or fearful situation
  • Dehydration, pain, or being tired
  • Exercise
  • Emotional stress, or being scared
  • A rapid drop in blood pressure after a body position change, such as moving from lying to sitting or standing
  • A heart condition, such as a narrow artery or an irregular heartbeat
  • Problems with the blood vessels of your child's brain
  • A medical condition that affects your child's lungs, such as pneumonia or asthma

What signs and symptoms may happen before a syncope episode?

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Pale, cold, clammy, or sweaty skin
  • Fast breathing and a racing, pounding heartbeat
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, or a headache
  • Fatigue or weakness

How is the cause of syncope diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child's symptoms and when they started. He or she may ask what triggers your child's syncope. Your child may need any of the following tests:

  • Blood tests may be used to help find the cause of your child's syncope.
  • An EKG is a test that records a short period of electrical activity in your child's heart. An ECG is done to check for heart damage or problems.
  • EEG: This test is also called an electroencephalogram. Many small pads or flat, metal buttons are put on your child's head. Each pad has a wire that is hooked to a machine. This machine records a tracing of brain wave activity from different parts of your child's brain. Healthcare providers look at the tracing to see how your child's brain is working.
  • An echocardiogram is a type of ultrasound. Sound waves are used to show the structure and function of your child's heart.
  • A tilt table test is used to check your child's blood pressure when he or she changes positions. This may be used if your child is having problems with fainting often.

How is syncope treated?

Your child does not need medicine or other treatments for his or her syncope. The symptoms will go away on their own when blood flow returns to normal. He or she may need any of the following medicines to prevent syncope from happening again:

  • Blood pressure medicines can help your child's heart pump strongly and regularly.
  • Steroid medicines can help your child's body balance fluids and salts. This will help prevent his or her blood pressure from dropping too low and causing syncope.

What can I do to manage my child's syncope?

  • Keep a record of your child's syncope episodes. Include your child's symptoms and his or her activity before and after the episode. The record can help your child's healthcare provider find the cause of his or her syncope and help manage episodes.
  • Tell your child to sit or lie down when needed. This includes when your child feels dizzy, his or her throat is getting tight, and vision changes.
  • Teach your child to take slow, deep breaths if he or she starts to breathe faster with anxiety or fear. This can help decrease dizziness and the feeling that he or she might faint.

How can I help my child prevent syncope?

  • Tell your child to move slowly and get used to one position before he or she moves to another position. This is very important when your child changes from a lying or sitting position to a standing position. Have your child take some deep breaths before he or she stands up from a lying position. Your child needs to stand up slowly. Sudden movements may cause a fainting spell. Have your child sit on the side of the bed or couch for a few minutes before he or she stands up. If your child is on bedrest, try to help him or her be upright for about 2 hours each day, or as directed. Your child should not lock his or her legs when standing for a long period of time. Leg movement including bending the knees will keep blood flowing.
  • Follow your healthcare provider's recommendations. Your provider may recommend that your child drink more liquids to prevent dehydration. Your child may also need to have more salt to keep his or her blood pressure from dropping too low and causing syncope. Your child's provider will tell you how much liquid and sodium your child should have each day. The provider will also tell you how much physical activity is safe for your child. He or she may not be able to play certain sports or do some activities. This will depend on what is causing your child's syncope.
  • Avoid triggers. Learn what causes syncope in your child and work with him or her to avoid them.
  • Watch for signs of low blood sugar. These include hunger, nervousness, sweating, and fast or fluttery heartbeats. Talk with your child's healthcare provider about ways to keep your child's blood sugar level steady.
  • Be careful in hot weather. Heat can cause a syncope episode. Limit your child's outdoor activity on hot days. Physical activity in hot weather can lead to dehydration. This can cause an episode.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Your child loses consciousness and does not wake up.
  • Your child has chest pain and trouble breathing.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child has a seizure.
  • Your child faints, hits his or her head, and is bleeding.
  • Your child faints when he or she exercises.
  • Your child faints more than once.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child has a headache, a fast heartbeat, or feels too dizzy to stand up.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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