Desiree got out of the whirlpool at the gym and was on her way to the showers when she felt incredibly dizzy. Next thing she knew, she woke up on the locker room floor with her sister looking over her anxiously. She was pretty scared — what happened?
Desiree's sister thought she'd probably fainted. Although Desiree felt like she'd been unconscious for hours, her sister said she was out for less than a minute. Since Desiree felt fine and she'd never fainted before, she decided she didn't need to go to the ER.
When Desiree asked her school nurse about it the next day, she said Desiree probably fainted because she stayed in the whirlpool too long or the temperature was set too high, affecting her body temperature.
Fainting is pretty common in teens. The good news is that most of the time it's not a sign of something serious.
When someone faints, it's usually because changes in the nervous system and circulatory system cause a temporary drop in the amount of blood reaching the brain. When the blood supply to the brain is decreased, a person loses consciousness and falls over. After lying down, a person's head is at the same level as the heart, which helps restore blood flow to the brain. So the person usually recovers after a minute or two.
Here are some of the reasons why teens faint:
Some medical conditions — like seizures or a rare type of migraine headache — can cause people to seem like they are fainting. But they're not the same thing as fainting and are handled differently.
Some people feel dizzy immediately before they faint. They may also notice changes in vision (such as tunnel vision), a faster heartbeat, sweating, and nausea. Someone who is about to faint may even throw up.
If you think you're going to faint, you may be able to head it off by taking these steps:
If you've only fainted once, it was brief, and the reasons why are obvious (like being in a hot, crowded setting), then there's usually no need to worry about it. But if you have a medical condition or are taking prescription medications, it's a good idea to call your doctor. You should also let your doctor know if you hurt yourself when you fainted (for example, if you banged your head really hard).
If you also have chest pain, palpitations (heart beating fast for no reason), shortness of breath, or seizures, or the fainting occurred during exercise or exertion, talk with your doctor — especially if you've fainted more than once. Frequent fainting may be a sign of a health condition, like a heart problem.
For most teens, fainting is not connected with other health problems, so a doctor will probably not need to do anything beyond examining you and asking a few questions.
If concerned about your fainting, the doctor may order some tests in addition to giving you a physical exam and taking your medical history. Tests depend on what the doctor thinks might be causing the problem. Common tests include an EKG (a type of test for heart problems), a blood sugar test, and sometimes a blood test to make sure a person is not anemic.
If test results show that fainting is a symptom of another problem, such as anemia, the doctor will advise you on treatments for that problem.
If you're with someone who has fainted, try to make sure the person is lying flat, but avoid moving the person if you think he or she might have been injured when falling (moving an injured person can make things worse).
Instead, loosen any tight clothing — such as belts, collars, or ties — to help restore blood flow. Propping the person's feet and lower legs up on a backpack or jacket can also help move blood back toward the brain.
Someone who has fainted will usually recover quickly. Because it's normal to feel a bit weak after fainting, be sure the person stays lying down. Getting up too quickly may bring on another fainting spell.
Call 911 if someone who has fainted does not regain consciousness after about a minute or is having difficulty breathing.
Reviewed by: Yamini Durani, MD
Date reviewed: September 2010
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