young girl standing with arms spread on a path
Children and teenagers commonly experience lightheadedness, and as many as 15% of children have 1 episode of syncope (fainting) before their 18th birthday. [Kanjwal: 2015] Lightheadedness and fainting usually result from not enough blood getting to the brain. Syncope is rarely caused by a serious medical problem.
For children and adolescents, syncope is more common in girls and peak incidence occurs between the ages of 15 and 19 years. Lightheadedness and fainting are more likely to occur when the child or adolescent:
  • Is dehydrated or drinks too little water
  • Skips meals
  • Stands up too fast
  • Stands for too long without moving around
  • Is having hair brushed or combed while standing
  • Becomes too hot – including from hot showers and hot tubs
  • Breath-holds
  • Has low red blood counts (anemia)
Simple techniques can be taught to help prevent and alleviate lightheadedness.

The temporary decrease in blood flow to the brain that causes syncope may also cause some jerking activity; this is not a seizure/epilepsy and the jerking does not respond to antiepileptic medication.
Syncope that occurs with exercise or with a history of sudden unexpected death in family members or other historical factors (listed below under Medical History) is also likely to be simple syncope, though further evaluation is needed.

Other Names

Vaso-vagal syncope

ICD-10 Coding

R55, Syncope and collapse
ICD-10 for Syncope and Collapse ( provides further coding details.

Pearls & Alerts

Workup for fainting
All children/adolescents with fainting episodes should have an EKG to rule out long QTc syndrome and other arrhythmias. If the EKG is normal and there are no risk factors, no further workup is needed.
Hair combing
Events that occur when hair is being combed, even if accompanied by jerking, are almost certainly “hair-grooming syncope” and not seizures.

Clinical Assessment

Differential Diagnoses

The primary consideration in the differential is seizure, which is usually ruled out by a detailed history of the event. If appropriate, see the Portal’s Seizures/Epilepsy, Initial Diagnosis for further information.

Medical History

Ask about more serious causes for fainting:
  • Was CPR needed after fainting?
  • Did fainting occur with exercise?
  • Was the faint triggered by fright or sound/noise?
  • Did chest pounding or chest pain/pressure precede the faint?
  • Did anyone witness posturing or jerking for 1 minute or more with the faint?
  • Is there a history of an abnormal heart or neurologic examination?
  • Has there been an abnormal electrocardiogram?
  • Do any close family members have a history of unexplained sudden death, heart rhythm problems or cardiomyopathy, or seizures?
  • Is there a history of brain or cardiac injury or disease?
  • Is there any underlying metabolic or kidney disease?
  • Has peripheral or autonomic neuropathy been found?
  • Is there significant developmental delay?

Physical Examination

Assess for any significant injury resulting from a faint.


Unless other risk factors are identified, the only routine test recommended is an electrocardiogram (ECG), if a normal ECG is not available from the previous 90 days. Beyond other signs of cardiac disease or arrhythmia, evaluation of the Q-T interval is key. A QTc >450 msec in boys and prepubertal girls or >470 msec in adolescent and older girls should prompt referral to cardiology. Other criteria for testing/referral of a child with syncope include:

Criteria for cardiology evaluation/echocardiogram

  • Abnormal ECG
  • Abnormal cardiovascular examination
  • Family history of cardiomyopathy
  • Family history of unexplained sudden death
  • History suggestive of acute myocarditis
  • Syncope during exertion
  • Suspected central nervous system (CNS) disease

Criteria for cardiology evaluation/echocardiogram:

  • Clinical diagnosis of seizure disorder

Criteria for brain MRI

  • Abnormal neurological examination
  • Suspected CNS disease

Criteria for laboratory testing

  • Abnormal orthostatic evaluation (electrolytes, kidney function)
  • Suspected anemia (hemoglobin/hematocrit)


Unless the medical history or physical exam suggests the need, children and adolescents who present with syncope do not need an evaluation beyond an EKG. Most do not need to be referred to a specialist. Focus on prevention (details below). Children and adolescents will also sometimes need a letter asking the school for a 504 accommodation to allow the child to drink water in class and use the bathroom as necessary. For a sample letter, see Sample Letter Requesting a 504 Plan for Fainting (Medical Home Portal) (PDF Document 156 KB). For a more detailed explanation of this civil rights law, see 504 Plan.


Advise families and patients to follow preventive actions known to be effective:
  • Drink more water (urine should be clear).
  • Increase salt intake.
  • Eat healthy meals often enough to avoid getting too hungry.
  • Avoid caffeine.
  • Avoid standing in one position for a long time.
  • Stand up slowly after sitting or lying down.
  • Avoid getting too hot from hot tubs or standing too long in a hot shower.
  • Sit when having hair brushed or combed by someone else (and get up slowly afterward).
  • Boys who are prone to fainting should sit on the toilet to urinate, especially first thing in the morning.

Immediate Self-Treatment

Educate about the best methods for getting more blood to the individual's brain when the child or adolescent is feeling lightheaded or faint:
  • Lay down and raise the legs above the level of the head.
  • Cross legs and squeeze the leg muscles until the lightheaded feeling goes away.
  • Grip hands and try to pull them apart and down.

Subspecialist Collaboration

Pediatric Neurology (Pediatric Neurology (see NV providers [5]))
Refer if seizures are suspected, but keep in mind that children and adolescents often jerk with syncope, which does not need a workup by neurology,
Pediatric Cardiology (Pediatric Cardiology (see NV providers [4]))
Refer if there are abnormal items in the medical history, such as a family history of prolonged QTc syndrome or sudden unexplained death. Even though vasovagal syncope is the likely reason why some children faint while exercising, these children should still receive testing for a rare cardiac electrical or structural cause.


Information & Support

For Parents and Patients

Fainting (Nemours)
Explains the reasons that people faint and how to prevent it, how to help someone who faints, and when to see a doctor.

Practice Guidelines

Shen WK, Sheldon RS, Benditt DG, Cohen MI, Forman DE, Goldberger ZD, Grubb BP, Hamdan MH, Krahn AD, Link MS, Olshansky B, Raj SR, Sandhu RK, Sorajja D, Sun BC, Yancy CW.
2017 ACC/AHA/HRS guideline for the evaluation and management of patients with syncope: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines and the Heart Rhythm Society.
Heart Rhythm. 2017;14(8):e155-e217. PubMed abstract

Patient Education

Lightheadedness & Fainting (Intermountain Healthcare) (PDF Document 897 KB)
A pamphlet that explains some of the causes of fainting and what to do if your child or adolescent becomes lightheaded or faints.


Sample Letter Requesting a 504 Plan for Fainting (Medical Home Portal) (PDF Document 156 KB)
A sample of a short letter requesting that school personnel allow the child to carry a water bottle and drink from it throughout the day, use the bathroom when necessary, and sit down or lie down if feeling faint.

Services for Patients & Families in Nevada (NV)

For services not listed above, browse our Services categories or search our database.

* number of provider listings may vary by how states categorize services, whether providers are listed by organization or individual, how services are organized in the state, and other factors; Nationwide (NW) providers are generally limited to web-based services, provider locator services, and organizations that serve children from across the nation.


Syncope in children and adolescents (
Studies looking at better understanding, diagnosing, and treating this condition; from the National Library of Medicine.

Helpful Articles

Wieling W, Ganzeboom KS, Saul JP.
Reflex syncope in children and adolescents.
Heart. 2004;90(9):1094-100. PubMed abstract / Full Text

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: June 2018; last update/revision: June 2020
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Author: Lynne M. Kerr, MD, PhD
Reviewer: Collin Cowley, MD
Authoring history
2018: first version: Lynne M. Kerr, MD, PhDA; Collin Cowley, MDR
AAuthor; CAContributing Author; SASenior Author; RReviewer

Page Bibliography

Kanjwal K, Calkins H.
Syncope in children and adolescents.
Cardiac Electrophysiology, Johns Hopkins University. 2015;33(3). PubMed abstract