Loss of Consciousness in the Young Child

Pediatr Cardiol. 2021 Feb;42(2):234-254. doi: 10.1007/s00246-020-02498-6. Epub 2021 Jan 2.


In the very young child (less than eight years of age), transient loss of consciousness represents a diagnostic and management dilemma for clinicians. While most commonly benign, syncope may be due to cardiac dysfunction which can be life-threatening. It can be secondary to an underlying ion channelopathy, cardiac inflammation, cardiac ischemia, congenital heart disease, cardiomyopathy, or pulmonary hypertension. Patients with genetic disorders require careful evaluation for a cardiac cause of syncope. Among the noncardiac causes, vasovagal syncope is the most common etiology. Breath-holding spells are commonly seen in this age group. Other causes of transient loss of consciousness include seizures, neurovascular pathology, head trauma, psychogenic pseudosyncope, and factitious disorder imposed on another and other forms of child abuse. A detailed social, present, past medical, and family medical history is important when evaluating loss of consciousness in the very young. Concerning characteristics of syncope include lack of prodromal symptoms, no preceding postural changes or occurring in a supine position, after exertion or a loud noise. A family history of sudden unexplained death, ion channelopathy, cardiomyopathy, or congenital deafness merits further evaluation. Due to inherent challenges in diagnosis at this age, often there is a lower threshold for referral to a specialist.

Keywords: Loss of consciousness; Pediatric; Syncope; Young child.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / complications
  • Cardiomyopathies / complications
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / complications
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / complications
  • Male
  • Seizures / complications
  • Syncope / diagnosis*
  • Syncope / etiology*
  • Syncope, Vasovagal / complications
  • Unconsciousness / diagnosis
  • Unconsciousness / etiology