Fainting Attacks Amongst Children and Young Adults

A passed out child. (Top Photo Group/Thinkstock)
A passed out child. (Top Photo Group/Thinkstock)

A young man visits his doctor with a history of recurrent fainting attacks. Parents are worried. They want to know what could be the cause.

A transient, self-limited loss of consciousness, usually leading to falling is termed as syncope. Syncope is a common clinical problem accounting for five per cent of hospital admissions and up to three to five per cent of emergency department visits.

Syncope is a major challenge for the practicing physicians. It is very important to know the cause and clinical characteristics of syncope in children. Although most often benign, it can be a symptom of serious underlying conditions. It is estimated that 15-40 per cent of children and young adults have had at least one episode of syncope. Approximately one to two per cent of children presenting with syncope have a serious underlying disorder.

A paper published by the Department of Pediatrics, Peking University, retrospectively analyzed the causes of syncope and diagnostic workup of 154 consecutive children.

They found autonomic-mediated reflex syncope (also known as vaso-vagal or neuro-cardiogenic syncope) was the most common cause in 65.6 per cent of children, whereas cardiac disorders were found in 10 cases (6.5 per cent) comprising the second cause of syncope in children.

Other causes included psychological, neurological and metabolic disorders. Although many causes were studied, 25 cases (16.2 per cent) were found to have no definite cause for their syncope.

Vaso-vagal syncope is a temporary loss of consciousness associated with a drop in arterial blood pressure, quickly followed by a slowed heart rate. It usually occurs while standing. It may happen while a person is lying down. Emotional stress, stressful condition and pain may trigger an episode.

The fainting may occur suddenly or is associated with warning symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, nausea, sweating, pallor, visual disturbances, abdominal discomfort, headache, pins-and-needles, lightheadedness or vertigo. A person may feel hot or cold. He or she may have slurred speech and keeps yawning. During the faint “seizure-like” activity may occur.

Diagnosing vaso-vagal syncope is usually not difficult. It has a typical history and always completely normal physical examinations and ECGs. It is commonly seen in pubertal girls, but can happen in males. Usually, there is a clear precipitating cause of syncope.

Cardiac syncope can have be associated with life-threatening diseases. Therefore finding a cause for cardiac syncope is very essential.

A thorough medical history, ECG and echocardiography (ultrasound of the heart) can reveal life-threatening cardiac causes of syncope. Twenty-four-hour monitoring of the heart rhythm (Holter monitor) also helps in the diagnosis. Cardiac syncope often occurs suddenly or during exercise. Children with cardiac syncope often have history of cardiac diseases and they were often younger.

The authors of the Peking paper say that neurological causes of syncope should be considered if syncope is associated with seizure activity, syncope spells seen in any position, there is disorientation or neurologic abnormal signs. Diagnostic tests like EEG, CAT scan and MRI should be able to give us an answer.

A metabolic cause was entertained when the child had a history of metabolic diseases, prolonged anger or violent vomiting and diarrhea. Children with psychiatric disorders were adolescent girls with prolonged syncope spells and had more frequent syncopal episodes.

In summary, syncope in children may result from a wide variety of causes. In most cases, appropriate investigations will give us the diagnosis. History taking, physical examination and electrocardiography are the core of the syncope workup. Most causes of syncope are benign.

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37 Replies to “Fainting Attacks Amongst Children and Young Adults”

  1. I am researching causes of fainting in Toddlers. My 3 year old grand daughter has had atleast 3 episodes that she losses conciousness. I was not present with the first incident. The second time she got as stiff as a board, her eyes rolled up in her head and than she fainted. She came out of it with in a few seconds and then was very pale and weak for a half hour or so. The third time was within four months of the first incident. It was early in the morning and she walked up to me as she became very limp and said Grandma I feel very tired and then lost conciosness. She regained herself within seconds but stated vomiting and was pale. After the second incident she was tested by a cardiologist who found a slight arythmia. What should we do next! Thanks for any insight.

    1. hi I’m curious to hear what the results were..the exact episodes my three year old is having in the past week..please let me know..I thank you

    2. My daughter is 7 years old. She was at school and it was almost time to go home. The teacher played a song and she was laying on her arms. After two minutes she came up start screaming and grab her chest and fell forward and start to shake. Does anybody knows what this means. What do I do next. This has never happened before.

      1. Support body with balance nutrition diet Support Detox, antioxidents, natural herbal medicinal benwfits will be helpful.

  2. my husband's 8 yr old daughter has frequent fainting spells after which she sleeps for a few hours and is perfectly fine but with no memory of it. it has happened in school and whilst outside. she has had 24 hr heart monitor and brain scan all of which showed nothing. she has since had a test on her kidneys and the results show white cells and test needs repeating. is this common, could it be serious or is it at all common in girls of her age. would it matter that she has a tiny appetite and frame. thank you

  3. I am 14 years old and have a serious fainting problem. I’ve fainted almost 10 times since September. I’ve been to the cardiologist and they gave me a heart monitor, my heart’s fine. It only happens in school and is usually in the morning. I’m going to the neurologist next week because the pediatrition thinks it may be a very low case of epilepsy. (In this case, petite mal). I would like to know if anyone has an answer. It’s getting really annoying. Thank you.

    1. Hiy 16 year old daughter has suffered from this for 7 years which has entailed her passing out numerous times every day ….The good news is that she has not passed out in 6 weeks so their is a light at the end of the tunnel 😃

    2. My daughter is 15 now and she’s had these fainting spells since she had her first period started puberty first it started out as they thought it was something wrong with her heart they put her on a heart monitor didn’t find anything she said EKGs the came back fine she’s had an MRI CAT scan everything’s normal sleep studies all came back normal what’s weird about it is every time she thinks it’s like a different episode like sometimes she’ll faint and sit straight up and can’t take a deep breath in and faint again sometimes she faints and wakes right back up fine it’s happening a lot and I noticed it happens extremely a lot when she gets very stressed out or she’s very anxious or somebody’s threatening her the last time she fainted though she woke up with no memory of who we were didn’t know anybody around her didn’t know how to use a cell phone with teenager doesn’t know how to use a cell phone didn’t know who her mom who her dad her brother was at the hospital didn’t know where she was and then finally she had her blood drawn which makes her faint and she got her Memories Back so from what they can tell us so far is they think she has vagal vascular syncope with underlined disassociative personality which is when you get so stressed out that you turn into somebody else apparently in your body just kind of wants to be somebody else and not think about it but at the same time you have your bagel vein which is there’s a switch back there where it kind of gets toggled back and forth and it’s confused and that’s when we usually faint cuz it’s you know it controls all your functions and it controls your emotions on top of it so that is the reason I think when she gets anxious or like really upset that Switchback there gets all crazy and I can’t figure out what to do and it just makes her faint so far that’s what I’ve come up with either that or demonic possession one of the other cuz the doctor said everything is fine

  4. Hi My 16 year old daughter fainted in our kitchen on sunday and it was a sight that terrofied me to see we was eating dinner she was comin in for more n she said i need to lay down and within seconds she fell into me i caught her n then she was or seemed lifeless? unconcious we packed her out of the kitchen into living room her eyes were closed but i kept talkin to her to open her eyes n holding her, she opened her eyes but seemed like she was disoriented like drunk but not? and we gave her some vitamin water to drink took her to childrens hospital and they let us wait for 5 hrs before looking at her? gave her some juice n cookies n food asked her some Qs no doctor came in for 5 hrs? she did a ekg or something but it wasnt no 24 hrs more like a minute or 2? blood tests urine test few hrs later they said ok tests were good n she can go home with no answer? this happened to her 7 years ago when she was at my gramparents place n they didnt take her to the hospital they jus thought she mighta been hungry n fed her n put her to bed? well now this 2nd time i was there n seen it happen n i dont want to see it happen again? i am lookin for a new doctor as we now live in a new city? dont have a family doctor what can I do? or ask for to help us find out what can be wrong? maybe im over paranoid i just doesnt seem normal to me?

    1. No you are not over paranoid at all, you need to get to the bottom of this. Also, make sure you do your research at home before going to doctor. You need to ask the right questions and coming from a medical family. It is amazing to see how doctors in this current age easily ignore things till it becomes a bigger issue. My son who is turning 3 this October, seems to have fainting spells where he just sits down and has no energy and turns pale white as ghost. First time it happens they ran all the test and told us everything looks normal after 5 months it happened again. so i am going to get to the bottom of this till i get my answers and i would urge you to do the same. Ignoring is becoming a norm in the health care and very few doctors would take time to investigate unless parents really stay on the top of things.

      1. Hi it samethings happened to my so last Monday he wake up and get ready for school and he’s in the bathroom I heard the noise and I run to the bathroom and he was on the floor I picked him up it’s very scary to me this second time happened and we went to the ER they did some test and they find out he has a pot syndrome I’m so scared can anyone tells me if some one fainted and little stiff what kind of symptoms is that please

    2. My 17 year old did the same. Do not wait. Take her to a good childrens hospital or a good hospital. Write down all medical things you can remember from all family of you & husband. Do not leave anything out. I will pray for her.

    3. My daughter is 11.. The first time this happened.. I was doing her hair she said my stomach hurts and just immediately fainted… The second time was yesterday, also in the bathroom… I was washing her hair in the shower.. She said her stomach hurts and she just fainted and fell… from the moment she says her stomach hurts to the moment she drops is literally 2 seconds… I took her to the er… They did ekg, chest xray, urine test, blood test and sugar tests…. Everything came back fine… I am taking her to her doctor on Thursday because this is not normal.. I want them to do tests of the brain… Granted there were only 2 episodes in 11 years.. .But still its not normal and now I’m scaered for her to even take a shower

      1. Natasha, what ever became of the issues with your 11 year old daughter fainting? The very same thing happened to my 11 yr old daughter today! “My stomach hurts” while in the shower, and then she fainted. I’m curious to know your daughter’s diagnosis if you did get one.

  5. My 2.5 year old daughter fainted today while playing with her older brother. First time this has ever happened. She came to and seemed really tired and slightly disoriented, this lasted roughly an hour. Not too sure what to make of it. Hoping to get the ball rolling tomorrow with our pediatrician?

    1. Hi my daughter is 2.5 old now and she fainted today morning and her body started sweating and she was unconscious, i gave her water and food and she had it while she was not fully conscious. When she was 9 months this started and this is 6th time in 2.5 years. Every time she faints and I give her water and food and then she will be conscious. I sometimes feel it’s dehydration and I don’t think so if im completely right on this. Can anyone suggest what exactly is happening to my daughter

  6. My daughter is 7 and every time she vomits she faints eyes rolls back and she is very pale and weak for the night she can’t walk..i have asked for a referral and doctor ran tests and said she was fine which she is not this has been happening for over 8months and everytime she vomits…can some one plz help I am lost and am very concerned as we are going through it right now as we speak.

  7. Please be persistent in advocating for your children. I am a woman who fainted frequently throughout childhood, but since I grew up in a small town in the west no one dug deeper. My parents and our doctor just wrote it off to puberty and nerves since “you know how girls are.” Mind you I never could exercise intensely without fainting it coming close to it either! By my late 20’s and early 30’s I was having heart palpitations in the night that would wake me up gasping for breath! I was also starting to develop puffy ankles whenever I ate salty foods. Since I had low normal blood pressure my idiot doctor said that I was just probably wearing my pants too tight! Absurd! Eventually I was diagnosed with severe asthma and lived for years on both steroidal and rescue inhalers just to breathe and stay out of bronchitis. After a disastrous pregnancy that culminated with preeclampsia (toxemia) and a preterm delivery no medical professional would still take me seriously! In know time I was waking coughing up fluid in the night anytime I rolled onto my left side to the point that it was hard to stop! Once again my doctors failed to take it seriously because I was realitively young so they wrote that off to some severe gastroesophageal reflux even though I told them repeatedly I had no heartburn with it! This continued to progress over the years as my weight climbed ever higher from my inability to breathe while exercising and the my fear off fainting while exercising. At 44 my husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness which placed me under tremendous stress. Within three years of his diagnosis I was having a myriad of cardiac symptoms but once again I trusted my doctors too much who all kept assuring me I was too young for heart disease! Their mistaken notion was that women are immune to heart disease prior to menopause. I even complained to my family doctor of squeezing pain like a vice grip in my left shoulder that radiated up my neck and down my jawline. Had I been a man he would have instantly referred me to a cardiologist instead of treating me like a hypochondriac and prescribing muscle relaxants for my angina! Within less than six months of that appointment I blocked my left anterior descending artery (frequently called the widow maker, yet another relic of the belief that women can’t have heart disease!!). Not only did I block it but I blocked it 100%! The cardiologists that placed my stent said I was lucky I survived as most people who block that particular artery to that degree don’t survive. Interestingly the cardiologist who placed my stent noticed that my artery was unusually narrow and more ragged not because of plaguing but just an anomaly in my physiology. You would think this alone would have made him take a closer look at my heart but even he just chalked this up to my sex and nothing more. Six months post heart attack I had surgery to place a pacemaker/defibrillator in my chest because of the severity of my congestive heart failure. Three weeks later i suffered a stroke as well, since no one to this point had looked for genetic clotting disorders or further malformations of my heart. While in the hospital recovering post stroke a new team of cardiologists did both and found that not only did I have a hole between the chambers of my heart but I also had a mild genetic clotting disorder. I switched to that group of cardiologists because they seemed much more thorough and they had a female cardio list in their group who specialized in women with congestive heart failure. It has been so wonderful to finally have a doctor who doesn’t view me through sexist stereotypes and treats me like the intelligent, college educated woman that I am. A transesophageal echocardiogram is one of the few tests that can detect the type of hole I have. Had this been found in my youth they could have patched it easily which could have prevented my stroke from ever happening. Also the awareness that my heart was defective would have made doctors take my ongoing symptoms over so many years much more seriously possibly preventing my heart attack as well! Hang in there and dig until you get your answers! Don’t be afraid to suggest your doctors screen for congenital heart defects even in the absence of a heart murmur, since I never had a heart murmur either! If need be copy and paste my story in a document file and demand your doctor read my story and think about the implications of what he may be missing! My prayer is that by telling my story a new generation won’t have to walk the path I’ve traveled!

  8. So I faint because of heat, but there’s no escape because of the terrible summers here. The teachers don’t let me stay inside at recess, but there is no shade. I’ve fainted three times, but I started having random dizziness spells. What do I do?

  9. My daughter fainted when she was in pre-k after trying to make a poopie and stood up, went for the door and fainted. Just this weekend she and I (Mom) were taking a shower together after swimming and almost done she says she feels “woozy” so I scoot over to allow her to get out and bam, she just falls like a deadweight in my arms. I thought she was joking because her eyes were open. They were also opened I believe when she had her episode in pre-k. Does everyone else’s eyes stay closed during fainting spells or anyone else have open eyes? Thank you

    1. I am almost 18 and i have these fainting spells ive been to the hospital after fainting 4 times and first time hit my head on my wall and slid down when my fainting spells happen my eyes are open and my mom says it looks like i just kind of died. I suggest trying to get into a neurologist and i suggest to also write down what time she faints, if she feels sick, if she gets a warning sign of weekening legs, blackening vision or even lightheadedness.

      1. Thanks for your info. Did your Mom or Dad–or Doctor– say you couldn’t do any certain activities? I’m worried about my daughter doing swimming unless I am watching her like a hound. Also did you get a reason/diagnosis for each of your 4 fainting spells? Thank you!

  10. my son has recently started fainting as well. He is 12. It started labor day and has happened fully unconscious twice with feelings of onset multiple times. I’ve gone to multiple doctors with contradictory responses and now have my pediatrician irritated about my getting 2nd opinions. Its been over a month now and i still have no clue whats going on. I can’t send him to school and i have to make sure someone is with him so when he falls he dont seriously hurt himself. when he faints he looks dead: eyes staring blankly and mouth slightly open. it only lasted about a min till he was conscious again and maybe 30 to an hour before he was himself. He did not have nausia or any of the syptoms associated with syncope or seisures and the spells are random. he has had ct scan, eeg, ekg, blood work, mri, sonogram of the heard and chest xray all of which are supposedly normal. I don’t care where i have to drive/fly to, is there anywhere that is researching this type of occurrence in children? a foundation or something?

    1. @ Angela, you should definitely have it investigated although it could fall within normal, like I’ve been told my daughter’s is. Still we were referred by our pediatrician to a Pediatric Neurologist here in Sarasota/St. Pete (All Children’s Hospital). His name is Dr. Casadonte. He seems good but depending on where you are, you probably don’t have to go as far as FL to find a reliable doctor. It’s really scary, I know! I was so freaked out. Just so you know…make sure he has gone to the bathroom, make sure he’s had enough water & sleep and, if he feels woozy, have him sit down. My daughter is back in school, but I do understand your worrying about him hitting his head. I just told my daughter’s teacher that if she feels or complains of dizziness, to please have her sit down, ask if she’s had water, etc. Also, the Dr. said we could give her Magnesium. Good luck. We’ve had eeg, but no CT scans yet. All normal.

  11. My 19 year old college student has passed out unexpectedly in the AM four times in the last six months he’s had every test I can think of? They say he’s fine he was found unconscious yesterday by his roommate we don’t have any answers?????

  12. Are son is 17 years old he has passed out numerous times he loses vison and hearing he has had seizure activity over the passed year .we have had ever test done possible.we have seen heart Drs had MRI s . EEGs ect they say he has no seizure act no heart problems .we now have to go to a Nero dr..its very frustrating as a parents we will continue to dig .

  13. Hello I am 18 years old a female and I just passed out while showering this has happened quite a few times the first time was when I was in the 3rd grade in the girls bathroom then another time when I was 15 at my house and it happened the next year at my grandmothers house in the kitchen I went to get a glass of water next thing I knew it I fealt clammy shaky weak and lightheaded then I went to put down my water and I passed out when I woke up my head hurt I didnt remember what happened or why I was in the kitchen then it happened last year again while I was taking a shower and I dealt the same signs as before except I woke up with marks on my back And my head hurting and I was shaking then it just happened again tonight in the shower it is starting to scare me I’m going to be going to the docs about it but I also want to see if anyone knows what could be going on or any tips please and thank you

  14. My daughter is 23 years old and have had several fainting spells which has me so perplex. These fainting spells normally happen when during the summer months. Once at a water park, church picnic, volleyball practice and working summer camp. We have have done every test under the sun all test come back negative. I never knew but her dad died suddenly. I found out he had congestive heart failure . She has not had a fainting spell in a while. Should I go back to a cardiologist for further testing with this new info

  15. My 16 year old son faints also. If your child is tall they can be known to have low b.p. did you know that your blood pressure drops really low after a heavy meal? Keep sugar’ levels up and plenty if h2 o also avoid very hot showers and baths especially, many fainting spells are due to heat intolerance and dehydration. But get all tests to be sure.
    best of luck with everything
    Is mise le meas

  16. Hi my granddaughter started periods one year ago she is 13 her mother has lived with a guy 13 years and separated also the real dad is my son who sees her every weekend with his girlfriend we used to see her and her brother 4 times a week growing up now suddenly she has started passing out 19 times in one day and now it’s down to 6 today but out nearly 20 minutes in school so she keeps getting brought home the school sent for ambulance to go hospital again today being out that long getting shorter but longer now she stayed in one be

  17. Just yesterday my 14 year old daughter was laying down, got up thinking she need to use it, was complaining of her stomach. Next thing I knew I heard “Mom” it was low though, and asked if I could open the bathroom door. She was standing at the bathroom sink, drenched in sweat, said she couldn’t breath, said she was seeing darkness and passed out. She turned blue for at least 5 seconds it seemed like forever though. I called the ambulance, the said she had a UTI…however her blood pressure was low and her heart rate was low. I’m going for a follow up. Should Wednesday. Could this be the problem?

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