Vasovagal Syncope in Children can be a hard medical issue to deal with because children need to respond to symptoms on their own at the moment it’s happening. Plus, kids never know when it will strike. We found out our son has this medical issue this past year after he fainted four times. We found out he’s basically just prone to fainting, biologically. Unfortunately, the fourth time he fainted, he chipped two permanent teeth, which is just horrible. In this blog post, I’m going to share my experiences as a mom of a child who is dealing with fainting. I will also list some ways you can help your child cope plus ideas for ways to prevent injuries.
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Our son suffered from fainting while in school. On several occasions, he unexpectedly fainted, then threw up in class, which was very embarrassing for a tween child who is in middle school. It’s horrible to have something like this happen in middle school because kids this age tend to viciously tease one another. Ruthlessly so. My son laughed it off, but he had friends taking photos and posting stuff about him on social media. Everyone was talking about it. He’s pretty outgoing, so it didn’t bother him too much, but for many kids, having something like this happen at school is like the kiss of death.
It was happening about once a month now, this fainting-business. We knew we had to figure out what was going on. As an RN, many diseases and conditions popped up in my brain as the potential causes for this sudden unexplained fainting in my son.
I won’t lie. I was worried.
These questions had floated about in my head:
Could it be a brain tumor? Or some other type of tumor?
A hidden problem with his heart?
Could it be diabetes and the associated low blood sugar made him faint?
Was he really having seizures?
We just didn’t know.
Our Story: Our Journey in Finding a Cause for our Son’s Vasovagal Syncope
We brought him into the pediatrician, a parent’s first line of defense. Our doctor did bloodwork and multiple tests during a physical exam of our son. The exam and the bloodwork were all normal. So we went home without any real answers. The pediatrician advised us to watch him and keep him hydrated, well fed at all times, and ensure he got plenty of sleep.
In talking with our son, we found out that just prior to each fainting episode, he experienced a very strong emotion. He either felt very afraid, had extreme anxiety about something, experienced pain, or was listening to something medical that made him feel queasy. Gory things sometimes bothered him, especially when the talk involved injuries and bleeding. In all cases, he passed out but woke up very quickly, and several times he would vomit when he came to.
Puking in school is the worst for a kid, especially one who is a tween. Poor kid.
So, basically, our doctor believed his body was overreacting to stressors causing him to faint.
This sounded really simple. I thought, could it be as simple as that, really??
This was our working hypothesis for why this fainting was happening to him. When he fell and chipped his teeth after another episode of fainting, we went back to the doctor again because this was getting too extreme, chipping permanent teeth is a big deal, and it’s unfixable other than dental work (I’ll get to that later in the post). We were worried he would faint and hurt himself even worse the next time. It was becoming even more serious, so we couldn’t ignore it. We needed more answers.
Our pediatrician suggested the next step was to get an EKG done and an ultrasound of his heart to make sure he didn’t have a hidden heart issue.
We did the EKG (ECG electrocardiogram) first with a technician. It was totally normal.
Next, we visited a cardiologist in a consultation appointment and he had the plan of completing an ultrasound of our son’s heart, just to rule out any heart issues. The cardiologist told us this fainting response can happen in preteen kids who just happen to be prone to it. So, being a tween kid in middle school could simply be his trigger. Not all tween kids are prone to fainting, obviously, but in kids who are prone to fainting, the onset of fainting spells is often around the ages of twelve or thirteen, which is also when hormones are often changing.
The ultrasound turned out to be normal as well so this confirmed the diagnosis, as every other possible cause of the vasovagal syncope had been ruled out, so it was as simple as this is just how his body is reacting. The crazy thing was, in talking about all of it, I remembered this happening to me back when I was in middle school, so the proneness to fainting was likely genetic and it had come from me. The good news was, I had outgrown it, so I have high hopes he will too.
As his parents, we felt so relieved to have an answer for what had caused him to faint. The cardiologist completely agreed with the initial diagnosis of our pediatrician that our son simply was prone to fainting, the medical term for it being Vasovagal Syncope. The other medical term for this is neurally mediated syncope.
The options are to create a behavioral response plan for the child to follow, or in extreme cases, medication is used. We wanted to start with the response plan rather than just right to meds.
What Our Son Did Wrong
Our son reacted the way he did to the onset of feeling faint because he just did. Kids just react sometimes. His ideas of a “fix” for feeling off were not only completely wrong but actually the worst things he could have done.
In all cases when he fainted, he tried to walk around to shake it off. Eek! Worst idea ever!
In school, he would ask the teacher if he could go get a drink of water in hopes this would help him feel better. This was the worst thing to do because this actually made the fainting episode come on even more readily, of course. He was walking around which made the blood drain from his head, which made the likelihood of actually fainting more probable (which is what happened). Plus, he was walking around school hallways that were covered in hard flooring, so if he had fainted in the hall, he would have hit his head and possibly got a concussion, or worse.
Fainting Dangers Even at Home:
In one fainting episode, the one with the most severe consequences so far, he ran up two flights of stairs in our house when he felt faint. He went into a blind wild panic. This panic had then caused him to seek the bathroom. He told us he had been trying to drink water from the faucet, as water was his go-to solution. Then when he stood up, he fainted. He landed in the tub where he chipped two permanent teeth. After the episode, he told us he felt completely out of control.
We seriously needed to analyze this more. We needed to know everything.
So, we sat him down for a talk. We prompted him to leave nothing out. As parents, we knew we needed to understand exactly how he felt prior to fainting. We asked him many, many questions surrounding each fainting episode. All the fainting episodes started out the same with the way he felt, seeing speckles appear in his vision followed by a narrowing of his vision.
This was good news because it meant he had warning signs that he was about to faint. He just needed to learn how to properly respond when he was about to faint.
He hadn’t realized he was actually making it worse for himself. In every instance, he had done the exact opposite of what he should have done. Now we just needed to drill it into his head what he should do when a fainting episode was impending.
What should he have done?
He should have laid down or sat down, not walk around more. So dang simple. Yet so very effective.
He simply needed a plan to follow. We as his parents and the medical professionals needed to drill this simple plan into his head so it was an automatic response for him. The doctors helped by giving him the exact appropriate actions to take in response to any feelings like he was about to faint. Most importantly he needed to understand HE could prevent himself from fainting by following the plan. He had control, and he alone could help himself.
Oh, my honey babe of a son, this is preventable!!!!
His plan to follow:
- When he feels like a fainting episode is about to strike, he needs to get low. He must lay down. Elevating his feet while lying down is also helpful to keep the blood flowing to his brain.
- If he is unable to lie down, he must sit with his head between his knees.
- If he is in a place where he can’t lie or sit down, he must quickly get to a safe place to do so. Even if he is in class, he must get his body flat or into a sitting position.
- He must stay well hydrated. He should bring water to school and keep sipping on it.
- Be smart. He needs to pay attention to his body. We needed him to understand what NOT to do also. He needed to get it that walking around or running would further drain the blood from his brain and actually bring on the fainting episode. The medical professionals were adamant on explaining this to him which was quite effective in helping him know this was super important not to do.
- The way for him to help himself is for him to make sure he eats well. This includes eating a breakfast item and not skipping the meal, which he had frequently done in the past due to not being hungry in the mornings.
- He needs to make sure he’s getting enough sleep.
- He needs to be proactive and remove himself from potential dangers that could lead him to a fainting episode. I emailed all of his teachers so they would know if he suddenly laid down in class, they should realize he was doing it to prevent a fainting episode. This is especially important for when certain topics would come up in health class or social studies. In social studies, the topics sometimes focused on war and injuries where treatment had to be done without anesthesia. This had bothered him in the past and he had almost fainted. I made sure he understood that if he needed to leave a class because of a topic, he could.
- Pay attention to feelings of light-headedness, dizziness, nausea, sweating, buzzing in his ears, any spinning sensations. If someone tells him he looks pale, that is also a sign of pre-syncope and he needs to respond as listed above.
- He should consume salt and sports drinks as well.
- Watch his urine to make sure it stays pale yellow and if it gets dark, he needs to be drinking more liquids.
Dealing with the Consequences of Fainting
Unfortunately, people can’t regrow adult teeth. Ha! Wish we could.
We couldn’t undo the way he had reacted to his pre-syncope symptoms the time when he chipped his teeth. We just had to deal with the consequences of it. And trust me, the consequences of this gets a bit crazy.
Right after he fainted, we collected all the pieces of his tooth we could find and put it in a cup of milk, as I had heard that was what you do with a chipped tooth to preserve it. We ushered him into the dentist on an emergency basis for the chipped tooth. The good news was he was not in pain, so the break in his teeth was not near the roots. Yes, I said teeth. Ha! At first, I had thought it was just one tooth, but it was, unfortunately, two teeth that he had chipped.
Ugh! He had chipped both his central and lateral incisors on the left side of his mouth. His lateral incisor was chipped off very close to his gum line.
It turned out the pieces were too small to be reattached and basically, he had shattered them. Reattachment of them would not be possible, so he needed a composite tooth. This tooth was basically for appearances and he had to be careful with it and not bite into anything dense like an apple. This composite tooth was possible for the central incisor, but it was not possible for the lateral incisor because not enough was left to attach a composite tooth too. He needed eruption for a temporary composite tooth to even be added.
If the lateral incisor turned black, he’d need a root canal. Thankfully, this did not happen.
I didn’t get it at first when the dentist talked about the eruption needed for that tooth. I was like, okay, we need eruption. Big deal, right?
Um, yeah. It’s a big deal. It’s a VERY big deal.
Well, eruption meant he needed braces. I’m not kidding. He needed braces just to pull that lateral incisor out enough to add a temporary composite tooth to it. And he would have just the nub of the tooth there until the braces could pull the tooth out enough to give the dentist something to work with. A little chain would be attached to his tooth and connect to his braces and this would pull his tooth down through time. When it was out enough, a composite tooth will be added to that tooth as well.
Luckily he was at the point where he could do braces for straightening of his teeth, so now his treatment plan was two-fold. The braces would be a combined plan for straightening his teeth, closing gaps, AND erupting that tooth. If he hadn’t been ready for this, we would have had to do two rounds of braces. Thank goodness just one round was going to be needed. A silver lining no doubt here.
We were told that the composite teeth would remain his functioning teeth until he grew enough where permanent teeth would replace the composite teeth on both chipped teeth. He can not get the fake teeth until he is about seventeen years old. So, this means he will have to be gentle with his teeth and not bite into hard things for the next few years.
Permanent teeth are quite expensive, running at about $5,000 apiece at the time of me writing this post. This means we will have about a $10,000 (or more) bill when he reaches his late teens for the application of fake teeth.
What a huge mistake that had not only damaged his adult teeth for life but was going to give us, as his parents, a giant financial burden in the future. If only he had just laid down or fallen on something soft in that particular fainting episode. There is nothing we can do about it, but he now knows how to respond to pre-syncope and how serious the resulting consequences can be. So, hopefully, his future actions can prevent any future injuries from happening from his vasovagal syncope.
Crossing my fingers hard that his plan works and he follows it. It is up to him to do it right.
Parenting is a challenge and it’s always changing, right?
As parents, we can’t predict what will happen with our kids. And, sometimes, we feel like it gets so crazy, we can’t even make up these stories. This was one of those cases for me. I couldn’t have even dreamt up something as crazy as this happening to one of my kids.
Tell me about your own story of vasovagal syncope, or any crazy unexpected story about being a parent. Would love it if you left a comment below if you have one, I’d love to hear about it. Maybe we can learn from one another. Parenting is a journey and we get many crazy turns, dips, and peaks, we just need to navigate them the best we can and be there for our kids to help them through it.
I hope you found this post helpful and good luck with your journey with vasovagal syncope. I hope you don’t have any injuries resulting from fainting episodes in your child, or yourself if you found this post for your own fainting episodes.
Other potential reasons for fainting:
Be sure to investigate the potential reasons for fainting in your child. Other reasons I’ve heard about for fainting include intentional breath-holding, skipping meals, anorexia, reactions to consumed chemicals, and not drinking enough water. Be sure to interrogate your child in a way where they will share information with you so you can help them. Always seek help from your doctor or another medical professional when you are concerned about your child’s symptoms.
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