How to Care for Your Child with a Fainting Episode (Vasovagal Syncope)

This leaflet will provide you with information about a fainting episode.

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What is Fainting?

Fainting (also known as Syncope) is a temporary and sudden loss of consciousness with loss of body strength, followed by complete recovery in a few minutes.

Fainting happens when the blood flow to the brain slows down for a short period. When a person faints, they usually fall over or lie down; this makes it easier for the heart to pump more blood to the brain than standing.

Fainting in children is quite common; up to one in five children experience at least one episode before 15 years. These episodes can be caused by:

  • Dehydration,
  • Sitting for a long time
  • Standing for a long time
  • Fear
  • Hot environment
  • Sight of blood
  • Stressful situations
  • Hot shower.

What is a Vasovagal Syncope?

  • The most common type of fainting in children is Vasovagal Syncope, caused by a reflex of the nerves that causes either sudden widening of the blood vessels in the legs or a slowing of the heart rate, or both.
  • Vasovagal Syncope generally tends to be harmless.
  • Rarely, syncopal episodes could be because of heart problems, anaemia or low blood sugar.

What are the signs and symptoms of Vasovagal Syncope?

Before fainting, a child may experience some warning signs such as:

  • Dizziness,
  • Problems with eyesight,
  • Voices sounding far or muffled,
  • Feel nauseous.
  • The child may also look very pale during the fainting episode

If your child does not lie down immediately when these signs happen, he/she lose consciousness (faints) and fall over. Your child will often recover fully within a few minutes.

How Is Vasovagal Syncope diagnosed?

  • The doctor will ask a few questions about your child’s health and examine your child.
  • Your doctor will decide if more testing or blood tests are needed. Sometimes an electrocardiogram (ECG) or blood tests can be helpful but is not required with every fainting episode.
  • Diagnosis of vasovagal Syncope is recognized by the usual symptoms and normal examination results.
  • If the symptoms are typical of vasovagal Syncope and your child’s examination results are normal, no further tests are needed.
  • In some situations, when an underlying cause is suspected, your child will be referred to a specialist

How Is Vasovagal Syncope treated?

  • Treatment of fainting or syncopal attack depends on the underlying cause.
  • Most of the time, simple actions at home can be enough
  • Your doctor will advise you if your child needs any further treatment                

To prevent syncopal episodes, the following actions can be useful

  • Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration
  • Add adequate amounts of salt to the meals
  • Encourage your child to eat three meals a day, especially breakfast
  • Encourage your child to Wear compression socks

If your child experiences the warning signs, they should immediately take the following actions to avoid loss of consciousness and fall:

  • Lie down flat with the legs raised (on a chair or against a wall).
  • Sit down as soon as the warning signs occur.
  • If your child is in a public place and unable to lie or sit down, they can squat down until they feel better
  • When feeling better, advise them to get up carefully.
  • If signs return, they should continue the sitting/lying/squatting position.                                        

When should I seek medical advice?

Seek medical advice if:

  • Your child experiences fainting with loss of consciousness for the first time so that the doctor can assess them and give you a plan.

Go to the Emergency Department or call 999 if your child:

  • Faints /loss of consciousness without any warning symptoms
  • Experiences a lengthy period of loss of consciousness (more than five minutes)
  • Faints during physical exertion or sporting activities
  • Experience’s chest pain
  • Experiences Palpitations- a feeling that your child’s heart beats faster, skips beats or have extra heartbeats.
  • Have a history of heart disease
  • Have a history of sudden unexplained death or sudden death due to heart condition in family members less than 40 years of age
  • Have a History of a family member with a pacemaker