When Your Child Has Dizziness or Fainting
Your child has recently felt dizzy, lightheaded, or has fainted (“passed out”). This may have happened once or more than once. You may be very worried. But dizziness and fainting are not often signs of a major health problem in children. Breath-holding spells in younger children are also harmless.
What can cause dizziness or fainting?
A sudden decrease in blood flow to the head can cause someone to feel dizzy or faint. Things that take blood away from the head include:
A fast change in position (such as standing up quickly)
Standing without moving for a long period
Hot showers (because blood rushes away from the head to cool the skin)
Fever or illness
Anemia (not enough oxygen-carrying red blood cells in the body)
Dehydration (not enough water in the body)
Arrhythmia (an abnormally fast, slow, or irregular heart beat) or other heart defect
What are the symptoms of dizziness or fainting?
Dizziness is a feeling of lightheadedness. Fainting is a loss of consciousness. Both can also cause a mild headache, feeling nauseated or “queasy,” and disorientation or confusion. It is very normal for a child who has fainted to have small muscle twitches or jerks. However, these are different from a seizure in that they are very brief and in different muscle groups. In most cases, your child will regain consciousness on his or her own and should have no lasting problems beyond several minutes of the event. See your child's doctor if he or she has persistent symptoms.
How are dizziness and fainting diagnosed?
The healthcare provider will examine your child, and ask about his or her symptoms and overall health. Your child will likely be asked if he or she is lightheaded or feels a spinning sensation (called vertigo). The healthcare provider will also ask if other family members have a history of feeling lightheaded or of fainting. The healthcare provider may also order tests to rule out certain causes of dizziness or fainting. These tests may check:
Heart rhythm (via ECG or echocardiogram)
Blood (to check for anemia or other conditions)
How are dizziness and fainting treated?
If an underlying cause of dizziness is found, your child’s healthcare provider will discuss treatment with you. Otherwise, you can help your child by relieving his or her symptoms. If your child feels dizzy:
Have your child sit down or lie down right away. If sitting, have your child place his or her head between the knees. This helps to direct blood back into the head.
If your child has fainted:
Lay him or her down on a flat surface.
Raise your child’s feet above heart level using a pillow or other object.
After your child wakes up, give him or her a drink such as orange juice to increase hydration and raise blood sugar.
If your child's symptoms don't resolve with these simple measures, call your child's healthcare provider. Sometimes children need to be treated with intravenous (IV) fluid.
How are dizziness and fainting prevented?
Since dehydration can lead to dizziness or fainting, you may be told to increase the amount of water your child drinks. You may also be told to increase your child’s salt intake for a certain amount of time. Salt helps the body to hold water. This may mean giving your child a small bag of potato chips or pretzels as directed by the healthcare provider. Sports drinks may also be suggested to help keep your child’s salt and fluid levels up. Very rarely, children with recurrent fainting episodes are treated with medicine if the episodes become too frequent or bothersome.
What are the long-term concerns?
If your child has fainted more than a couple of times, he or she might need to see a cardiologist. This is a doctor who treats heart problems. The cardiologist can do tests to help decide whether a heart problem is causing the fainting. Otherwise, most children who feel dizzy or faint once in a while do not have any long-term problems.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Call your child’s healthcare provider right away if your child has any of the following
Fainting during exercise, such as active play or sports
Fainting episode lasting longer than 30 seconds
Repeated episodes of fainting or dizziness
Dizziness or fainting with chest pain
Racing or irregular heart beat
Repeated jerking of the arms, legs, or face muscles that may be a seizure
Family history of sudden cardiac death
March 29, 2018
Adler, Liora, MD,Bass, Pat F., III, MD, MPH