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My Child Fainted: Should I Be Worried?

University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health
mom comforts young child

It’s frightening to see your child lose consciousness. Although there are numerous causes for this, fortunately, the majority tend to be nothing serious.

At least one in six kids will faint at some point before they reach adulthood, usually due to temporary lack of blood flow to the brain.

The most common cause of fainting in children is related to immaturity of the autonomic nervous system, which regulates involuntary processes of the body such as breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. Fainting episodes can be brought on by everyday activities, some of them are:

  • Postural changes (e.g., going from lying down to sitting or standing)
  • Prolonged standing
  • Combing hair
  • Stretching
  • Using the restroom

Fainting can also occur as a response to pain, heat or stress. All these triggers can lead to sudden changes in heart rate and blood pressure, which may cause a child to faint. The recovery from fainting is usually quick and takes only a few minutes.

Most of the time a fainting episode is preceded by symptoms such as changes in vision, dizziness, ringing in the ears, nausea or feeling hot. Occasionally, fainting may happen without any of these warning symptoms.

When To Seek Medical Care

So when should parents seek medical care for a child who has fainted?

Harinder Singh, MD, chief of pediatric cardiology and director of electrophysiology at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s, says fainting may deserve immediate medical attention if it:

  • Occurs without any warning signs
  • Occurs during exercise
  • Occurs while lying in the supine (face-up) position
  • Is accompanied by seizure-like activity
  • Takes longer than normal to recover
  • Is preceded by heart palpitations

A patient with any of these red flags may need to be evaluated by EMS and or visit the ER. In other cases, a visit to a primary care pediatrician can help ease parental anxiety and rule out any organic causes or underlying conditions.

If necessary, your child’s provider can refer them to a pediatric cardiologist for further assessment and management. Dr. Singh says a small percentage of cases are caused by a heart condition such as abnormal heart rhythm or decreased pump function of the heart related to inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis).

If a heart problem is suspected, a pediatric cardiologist may recommend tests such as electrocardiogram (EKG), echocardiogram, an exercise stress test, heart monitor, an upright tilt table test, or an implantable loop recorder. A neurological exam may also be helpful for some patients.

The management of fainting usually involves lifestyle changes, medications and occasionally procedures such as cardioneuroablation, which uses a catheter ablation technique to rebalance the cardiac autonomic nervous system.

Dr. Singh also warns about concerning social media challenges where kids are challenged to perform stunts such as the “pass-out challenge” or the “choking game.”

“These extremely dangerous fads spread quickly on the internet,” Dr. Singh says. “Some children have even died from purposely cutting off blood and oxygen to their brains. Parents should talk to their kids about the dangers of these social media challenges.”

Related Links

The Congenital Heart Collaborative at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital features a nationally recognized team of heart specialists, including pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons and pediatric cardiologists. All of our specialists have extensive pediatric training and experience in the diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of congenital heart conditions. Learn more about pediatric cardiology services at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.