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A heads-up about fainting spells

Dr. Lewis First (Photo provided)

Parents have been anything but faint of heart to ask me about what to do if their child or teenager should experience a fainting episode. Well, let me pass out some information on this particular topic.

What is fainting?

Fainting represents a temporary loss of consciousness as a result of blood not going to the brain due to a drop in blood pressure. It is characterized by dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, blurred vision and sweating until adequate blood can reach the brain.

Why we faint

There are many reasons why a child or teenager can faint — and most of them aren’t serious in young people.

The most common is when nerves that stimulate the heart and blood vessels get overstimulated and cause the heart to speed up, then slow down, and blood pressure drops. Emotional stress like fright, pain, anxiety and hyperventilation can be the triggers for these nerves to cause someone to faint.

¯ Being dehydrated, especially if in an environment that is too hot and crowded, or standing for a long time, or just getting up too fast after sitting or lying down, can trigger a fainting response, which is also called a vasovagal response.

¯ There are some medical causes, such as problems with a medication, a low red blood cell count causing anemia, or low blood sugar. On rare occasions, fainting may be due to rarer conditions like heart rhythm problems, or a structural problem with the heart itself.

How to prevent fainting

If someone thinks they are going to faint, try to help them lie down before this happens, and loosen any tight clothing especially around their neck. If your child is out in hot weather or heated conditions, make sure hydration is always ample before, during and after exercise. If you sit for long periods, tensing up the leg muscles or crossing legs can help improve blood flow. And of course — avoid overheated, cramped or stuffy environments as much as possible.

What to do when fainting happens

If a child does faint, keep your child lying down for 10 to 15 minutes with their legs elevated after they revive to make sure they don’t faint again, and give them something to drink if they are able to do so. Please contact your child’s health care provider right after the episode occurs for further advice. If your child does not revive within a minute or so, if they hurt themselves fainting, are experiencing chest pain or shortness of breath before, during or after fainting, or the episode occurred while exercising, this type of fainting may signal more of a medical emergency requiring you to call 911 for help.

Hopefully, tips like these will help you stand up to the challenge of helping your child if they think they are going to faint.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.

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