Dizziness and Fainting in Children and Teens (2022)

​By: Caitlin Haxel, MD, FAAP & Juan Villafane, MD, FAAP

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.

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.

    (Video) Why Do We Faint? | Causes Of Fainting | The Dr Binocs Show | Peekaboo Kidz

  • 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.

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.

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

  • Nausea

  • 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)

    (Video) How common is fainting in children?

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 hypoglycemiaemergencycare 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.

    (Video) Syncope in Children and Adolescents wtih Dr. Martinez

  • 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. See Common Types of Cardiac Testing.

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.

    (Video) 12 Causes of Dizziness

  • 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.

Remember:

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.

Additional Information:

About Dr. Haxel:

Dizziness and Fainting in Children and Teens (1)Caitlin Haxel, MD, FAAP, is a pediatric cardiology fellow focusing on advanced imaging and fetal cardiology at the Children's Hospital Colorado in Aurora, Colorado. She completed her medical education at State University of New York in Brooklyn, New York followed by her pediatric residency and pediatric cardiology fellowship at New York Presbyterian-Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, NY. Within the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Haxel is a member of the Section on Cardiology and CardiacSurgery Publications and Communications Committee.

About Dr. Villafane:

Juan Villafane, MD, FAAP, is a pediatric cardiologist. Within the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Villafane is a member of the Section on Cardiology and CardiacSurgery Publications and Communications Committee.

The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

(Video) Constant dizziness / lightheadedness | My story with PPPD and treatment!

FAQs

What causes dizziness and fainting in children? ›

Dehydration is the most common cause of fainting in children. When the body doesn't get enough fluid intake, the blood pressure can drop, which can cause inadequate blood flow to the brain. In many cases, as a first step, pediatricians will recommend that children who have fainted simply drink more.

What causes dizziness and fainting? ›

Causes include:
  • standing up too quickly – this could be a sign of low blood pressure.
  • not eating or drinking enough.
  • being too hot.
  • being very upset, angry or in severe pain.
  • heart problems.
  • taking drugs or drinking too much alcohol.

What can cause dizziness in a 15 year old? ›

Causes of Dizziness
  • Main Cause. Usually due to reduced blood flow to the brain for a short time. ...
  • Standing too long in one place. ...
  • Standing up suddenly. ...
  • Dehydration. ...
  • Low Oxygen (such as when running and out of breath). ...
  • Too Much Sun or Hot Tub Use. ...
  • Sweating from Sports or Hard Work. ...
  • Fasting.
13 Jan 2022

What can cause a teenager to faint? ›

Getting too hot or being in a crowded, poorly ventilated setting are common causes of fainting. Sometimes just standing for a very long time or getting up too fast after sitting or lying down can cause someone to faint. Emotional stress. Emotions like fright, pain, anxiety, or shock can cause blood pressure to drop.

How do you treat dizziness in children? ›

Treatment may include:
  1. Physical therapy exercises to improve balance. ...
  2. Medicine to relieve symptoms of nausea and motion sickness.
  3. Antibiotic medicine to treat inner ear infections.
  4. Steroid medicine to decrease swelling.
  5. Water pills to reduce the amount of fluid in the inner ear.

What are 3 causes of fainting? ›

Activities that may cause you to pass out include:
  • Skipping too many meals.
  • Hyperventilating (breathing too fast).
  • Working, playing or exercising too hard, especially in the heat.
  • Standing up too quickly.
  • Using alcohol, marijuana or illegal drugs.
6 Aug 2021

What are the five causes of fainting? ›

What causes fainting?
  • changes to your blood pressure, especially when you stand up.
  • dehydration.
  • anaemia.
  • some medicines.
  • diabetes.
  • a nervous system problem.
  • a heart problem.
  • a seizure.

What neurological disorders can cause fainting? ›

Syncope isn't normally a primary sign of a neurological disorder, but it may indicate an increased risk for neurologic disorders such as Parkinson's disease, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), diabetic neuropathy, and other types of neuropathy.

Is dizziness in children serious? ›

Kids, like adults, may occasionally feel lightheaded or unsteady. But if such feelings repeat or interfere with everyday life, it could be a sign of a balance disorder. Most balance problems are temporary and easy to treat. But these problems may also signal a more serious condition that could have a lasting impact.

Is a child fainting serious? ›

“Fainting usually is not cause for alarm, but a doctor will want to rule out any serious problems,” he says. “A very small percentage of cases are caused by a heart condition. Sometimes children have an irregular heartbeat, also known as arrhythmias.

What causes low blood pressure in teenager? ›

These include dehydration, blood loss, pregnancy, heart problems, infection allergies, endocrine problems and nutritional issues. Certain medications can also cause low blood pressure.

What is the first aid treatment for fainting? ›

Position the person on his or her back. If there are no injuries and the person is breathing, raise the person's legs above heart level — about 12 inches (30 centimeters) — if possible. Loosen belts, collars or other constrictive clothing. To reduce the chance of fainting again, don't get the person up too quickly.

How do you treat fainting? ›

What to do
  1. Ask them to lie down.
  2. Check for other injuries. ...
  3. Kneel down next to them and raise their legs, supporting their ankles on your shoulders to help blood flow back to the brain.
  4. Make sure that they have plenty of fresh air. ...
  5. Reassure the casualty and help them to sit up slowly.

What is a good home remedy for dizziness? ›

Steps people can take to relieve dizziness include:
  • lying down and closing the eyes.
  • acupuncture.
  • drinking plenty of water and keeping hydrated.
  • reducing stress plus alcohol and tobacco intake.
  • getting plenty of sleep.

Who is at risk for fainting? ›

Cardiac syncope is a higher risk in men and those over age 60. People with the following characteristics are also at higher risk: Known ischemic heart disease, structural heart disease, previous arrhythmias, or reduced ventricular function. Brief palpitations or sudden loss of consciousness.

What is the difference between fainting and passing out? ›

Some people use the terms blackout and fainting interchangeably, but they are two different things. A blackout is a loss of memory. Fainting, also called passing out, is a loss of consciousness. Both of these can have several different causes.

Can anxiety cause fainting? ›

One of the most common reasons people faint is in reaction to an emotional trigger. For example, the sight of blood, or extreme excitement, anxiety or fear, may cause some people to faint. This condition is called vasovagal syncope.

What are the first signs of fainting? ›

Losing consciousness is the main symptom of fainting. The following symptoms may be present before a person loses consciousness: dizziness. lightheadedness.

Should you see a neurologist for fainting? ›

It is strongly recommended to see a doctor as soon as possible after any instance of fainting. Dr. Sarbjot Dulai, our resident neurologist in Leesburg, VA, can guide you toward getting the correct diagnosis and treatment following a syncope episode.

Is fainting related to mental health? ›

Although initially neglected, syncope caused by psychiatric disorders may account for 26% of all etiologies of syncopal episodes that are caused, most of the time, by major depression, and panic, anxiety and somatization disorders.

Can fainting be caused by a brain tumor? ›

Syncope can occur due to stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system or carotid sinus by direct neoplastic infiltration. Syncope also can be the first sign of intracranial tumours due to involvement of autonomic cardiovascular control areas.

Can anxiety cause dizziness in children? ›

Some examples of physical symptoms that a child with anxiety may exhibit include: Chest pain or discomfort. Discomfort or pain in the stomach, nausea. Dizzy, lightheaded, or unsteady feelings.

Why is a 13 year old dizzy? ›

Lightheadedness is often the result of a drop in blood pressure (orthostatic hypotension) or not enough blood flow from the heart. Heart problems, stroke, internal bleeding, and shock can all contribute. Lightheadedness also can happen with viruses, low blood sugar, allergies, and dehydration.

What are the red flags for dizziness? ›

“Red flag” symptoms should alert you to a non-vestibular cause: persistent, worsening vertigo or dysequilibrium; atypical “non-peripheral” vertigo, such as vertical movement; severe headache, especially early in the morning; diplopia; cranial nerve palsies; dysarthria, ataxia, or other cerebellar signs; and ...

What causes syncope episodes in children? ›

The most common type in children is called vasovagal syncope, which is a benign type of fainting that occurs in response to a trigger, such as pain or emotional stress. Orthostatic hypotension is another type of benign syncope that can occur in children.

What happens when kids faint? ›

When a child faints, the blood supply — and the oxygen that blood brings to the brain — is temporarily reduced. This causes the child to lose consciousness, sometimes fall, and in severe cases, have a short seizure. Syncope typically occurs in children during their pre-teen and teen years.

Can puberty cause fainting? ›

Syncope is caused by a sudden decrease in blood flow to the head. It is often triggered by growth spurts and puberty. Most children stop fainting as they get older.

What cause low blood pressure in kids? ›

The most common causes of low blood pressure in a child include:
  • Anaphylaxis (life-threatening) allergic reaction.
  • Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm)
  • Certain medications, including painkillers and anti-anxiety medicines.
  • Dehydration.
  • Drinking alcohol (teenagers)
  • Heart conditions.
  • Infection.

What are 3 causes of low blood pressure? ›

Causes include dehydration, long-term bed rest, pregnancy, certain medical conditions and some medications. This type of low blood pressure is common in older adults. Postprandial hypotension.

When should I be concerned about my child's dizziness? ›

Call your child's doctor now or go to the emergency room if:

Dizziness was caused by heat exposure, prolonged standing or poor fluid intake. It's not gone after two hours of rest and fluids. Your child looks or acts very sick. You think your child needs to be seen and the problem is urgent.

When should I be concerned about my child fainting? ›

Patients should be evaluated immediately and referred to a cardiologist if they experience: Fainting without an obvious trigger or in a non-typical setting. Fainting without any warning signs or symptoms. Fainting associated with exercise or stress, particularly occurring during exertion.

Is fainting normal in kids? ›

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.

What is the most common cause of syncope in children? ›

The most common type in children is called vasovagal syncope, which is a benign type of fainting that occurs in response to a trigger, such as pain or emotional stress. Orthostatic hypotension is another type of benign syncope that can occur in children.

Why is my 13 year old daughter dizzy all the time? ›

Lightheadedness is often the result of a drop in blood pressure (orthostatic hypotension) or not enough blood flow from the heart. Heart problems, stroke, internal bleeding, and shock can all contribute. Lightheadedness also can happen with viruses, low blood sugar, allergies, and dehydration.

Can anxiety cause dizziness in kids? ›

Some examples of physical symptoms that a child with anxiety may exhibit include: Chest pain or discomfort. Discomfort or pain in the stomach, nausea. Dizzy, lightheaded, or unsteady feelings.

How do you stop a child from fainting? ›

Think Prevention!

Make sure kids: drink plenty of fluids, especially in hot weather or during physical activity. eat regular meals and snacks to avoid low blood sugar. take frequent breaks and move around as much as possible when sitting or standing for long periods of time.

Can low iron cause fainting in children? ›

Fainting was associated with low iron stores in this retrospective study. Neurally mediated syncope (NMS; often called “simple faint”) is the most common form of syncope in children.

What neurological conditions cause syncope? ›

Syncope isn't normally a primary sign of a neurological disorder, but it may indicate an increased risk for neurologic disorders such as Parkinson's disease, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), diabetic neuropathy, and other types of neuropathy.

What are the 2 types of syncope? ›

Reflex syncope is the most frequent cause of fainting. Vasovagal syncope — the common faint — occurs in one third of the population. It is by far the most common form of reflex syncope. Vasovagal syncope is often triggered by a combination of dehydration and upright posture.

What medication causes syncope? ›

Drugs commonly implicated in syncope include the following: Agents that reduce blood pressure (eg, antihypertensive drugs, diuretics, nitrates) Agents that affect cardiac output (eg, beta blockers, digitalis, antiarrhythmics)

Videos

1. Dizziness - Akron Children's Hospital video
(AkronChildrens)
2. Teenager Is So Overloaded With Chores That She Faints In Front Of Jo | Supernanny
(Supernanny)
3. Syncope and Risk of Sudden Death in Children and Adolescents | Children's National
(Children's National Hospital)
4. Syncope video, what happens when you faint, including seizure-like activity.
(Brain Cells)
5. Causes of Fainting | What to Do If Your Child Faints
(St. Louis Children's Hospital)
6. Children’s Fainting Spells
(Lee Health)

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