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Syncope | Overview

What is syncope?

Syncope is the medical term for fainting. It’s a temporary loss of consciousness that occurs when not enough blood goes to the brain.

Syncope can affect people of all ages, from toddlers to the elderly. More than 100,000 adults and children visit a doctor each year due to fainting. About 98 to 99 percent of syncope in children is benign, meaning there’s no underlying cardiac cause.

What causes syncope?

There are several types of syncope. The most common type in children is called vasovagal syncope, which is a benign type of fainting that occurs in response to a trigger, such as pain or emotional stress.

Orthostatic hypotension is another type of benign syncope that can occur in children. It’s caused by a drop in blood pressure that occurs after standing, or when moving from sitting to standing. In these cases, blood can pool in the legs, keeping it from being returned to the heart and then flowing to the body. This can lead to a momentary drop in blood flow to the brain, causing the person to faint.

What are the symptoms of syncope?

Some children have the feeling that they are about to faint, or they may feel dizzy or like the room is spinning. In other instances, a child may simply faint. 

Who's at risk for syncope?

Some conditions or situations may make children more likely to faint.

These can include:

How we care for syncope

Boston Children’s Outpatient Cardiology Department is one of the world’s oldest, largest and most experienced pediatric programs. 

Our clinic provides comprehensive evaluation and coordinated care for infants and children with syncope.

Syncope | Diagnosis & Treatment

How is syncope diagnosed?

Most cases of syncope in children are benign, due to a vasovagal event. But because some types of syncope are caused by medical problems, any child who has a fainting spell should be seen by a doctor to determine the cause. 

To diagnose the cause of fainting, your child’s doctor will do a full exam and may ask questions about the child’s fainting, such as how many times it has happened, what the child was doing before fainting and if he or she had any symptoms before it happened.

The doctor may also run one or more tests, including:

What are the treatment options for syncope?

Treatment for syncope depends on the cause. Children with vasovagal syncope may be instructed to try to avoid situations that trigger fainting. They may also be instructed to drink more fluids and to recognize the signs of syncope. If these symptoms occur, they should sit down for as long as 10 to 15 minutes until they feel better.

If your child has a heart condition or other medical condition that is causing syncope, your doctor will advise you on the best way to prevent it from happening in the future. 


Syncope | Programs & Services