Your child’s eyes roll back and they pass out in front of you. This is perhaps one of the scariest moments for a parent. Although your child comes to quickly and seems to be doing well, you wonder why this happened. Is there anything wrong with my healthy child?
Passing out, or syncope, is a sudden, brief loss of consciousness associated with loss of muscle tone, from which recovery is spontaneous. Up to 15 percent of children experience an episode of passing out prior to the end of adolescence. Most of the time these episodes are not because of dangerous reasons, but they can occur as the result of more serious, usually heart related, disease with the potential for sudden death.
Life-threatening heart conditions that cause syncope (passing out) in children create a sudden drop in the hearts ability to pump blood. There are two main causes of this: an abnormal heart rhythm or structural heart disease. These conditions can be found by a thorough history, physical, and testing by your child’s primary care physician. This will often include an EKG, chest X-ray, and Echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart).
Other possible dangerous causes of syncope (passing out) in children include heat stroke, allergic reactions, low blood pressure, toxic exposures, drug side effects or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
The most common cause of kids passing out is called vasovagal syncope (neurocardiogenic). This includes situations such as getting shots, blood draws, emotional stress. In younger children, breath holding during spells of crying is a common cause of passing out. These are all common, non life-threatening causes of syncope.
There are also several conditions that mimic syncope such as seizures, migraine syndromes, narcolepsy, hyperventilation, hysterical fainting, and intentional strangulation.
If your child is doing well and “back to normal” just after the episode you do not need to go the ER. All of these possible conditions make it important to have your child checked out by their physician after an episode of passing out.