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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

  • Not eating

  • Standing without moving for a long period

  • Hot showers. This is because blood rushes away from the head to cool the skin.

  • Fever or illness

  • Anemia. This means not enough oxygen-carrying red blood cells in the body.

  • Dehydration. This means not enough water in the body.

  • Abnormally fast, slow, or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) or other heart defect

  • Emotional stress

  • Pain such as when blood is drawn

What are the symptoms of dizziness or fainting?

Dizziness is feeling lightheaded. Fainting is a loss of consciousness. Both can also cause a mild headache, nausea or “queasiness.” It can also cause disorientation or confusion. Blurry vision may precede fainting as well. 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 their own and should have no lasting problems beyond several minutes of the event. See your child's healthcare provider if they have persistent symptoms.

How are dizziness and fainting diagnosed?

The healthcare provider will examine your child and ask about their symptoms and overall health. Your child will likely be asked if they are lightheaded or feel a spinning sensation (called vertigo). The healthcare provider will also ask if other family members have a history of feeling lightheaded or fainting. The healthcare provider may also order tests to rule out certain causes of dizziness or fainting. These tests may check:

  • Blood pressure

  • Heart rate

  • 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 their symptoms. If your child feels dizzy:

  • Have your child sit down or lie down right away. If sitting, have your child place their head between their knees. This helps to direct blood back into the head.

If your child has fainted:

  • Lay them down on a flat surface. If the child has food in their mouth, lay the child on their side with their face turned toward the floor to prevent choking.

  • Raise your child’s feet above heart level using a pillow or other object.

  • After your child wakes up, give them 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 IV (intravenous) fluids.

  • Be sure to notify your child's healthcare provider anytime your child faints.

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 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, they 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.

Call 911

Call 911 or go to the nearest ER if your child has any of the following:

  • Is passed out or hard to wake up after a short period of time

  • Injured in a fall, such as bleeding

  • Sudden fainting after taking medicine, being stung, or eating something that they may be allergic to

  • Difficulty breathing, talking, or moving

  • Fainting during exercise, such as active play or sports

  • Fainting caused by choking

  • Chest pain

  • Repeated jerking of the arms, legs, or face muscles that may be a seizure

  • Racing or irregular heartbeat

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Call your child’s healthcare provider right away if your child has any of the following:

  • Fainting episode lasting longer than 30 seconds

  • Repeated episodes of fainting or dizziness

  • Family history of sudden cardiac death

Online Medical Reviewer: Dan Brennan MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Scott Aydin MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 4/1/2024
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