My six-year-old son faints at the sight of blood
MY son is six years old and has recently begun fainting or almost fainting at the sight of blood. It all began after he had his school immunisations. He was upset when this happened, but didn’t faint. A few
IT is quite rare to faint when we are anxious because the release of adrenalin usually increases our blood pressure. Instead, it is a sudden drop in blood pressure that usually leads to fainting.
However, a small number of children, especially those with a fear of blood or needles, may experience the typical sudden rise in blood pressure associated with the anxiety, followed quickly by a drop in blood pressure. This drop in blood pressure is called vasovagal syncope.
What happens is that the blood vessels in your son’s legs have actually opened up (causing the blood to pool in his legs) and his heart rate will have slowed. It is in essence a system malfunction!
The vasovagal syncope itself isn’t dangerous. The only real danger is in possibly falling and hurting himself if he faints. As you experienced, he will quickly recover from the faint. Lying him down and raising his legs will help. He may also need to lie down for 15 to 30 minutes afterwards, as sometimes getting up too quickly can lead to a further faint.
So, because he is so young, he weeks later, he fell outside while playing and grazed his knee. He quickly got very upset and panicky, he turned white as a ghost, felt very nauseous and fainted. He came to very quickly but fell asleep straight away for an hour. I really hate seeing him so anxious and upset. Is there anything you can recommend to help him with this?
might need help to remember what to do if ever he feels faint. The best thing to do, as soon as you or he notices that he pales, or feels light-headed, or gets a cold, clammy sweat, is to get him lying down with his feet up. This will significantly help to deal with the physical effects of the vasovagal syncope.
It will also be useful to try to teach him some alternative strategies to help prevent either the anxiety response to blood, or the drop in his blood pressure. If we start with the latter, he needs to learn what is called the ‘Applied Tension Technique’ (ATT). Essentially, this involves deliberately tensing the muscles in his arms and legs, since tensing them will raise his blood pressure, making him less likely to faint.
As with all these kinds of techniques, it is better for him to learn and practice it regularly when he is already relaxed, such that it has become somewhat habitual for him to be able to do it, by the time he might need to use it if he sees blood or needles.
To practice it, get him sitting comfortably and then ask him to tense the muscles in his arms and legs while counting slowly from one to 10. Then let him relax the muscles for about the same amount of time, before repeating again. Do this tense and relax cycle four to five times. One of the things he should (helpfully) experience is that his head feels warmed by the process. That is a good sign that his blood pressure is being kept up.
You may need to prompt him to do this if you are the one to spot him paling or appearing clammy. Using this ATT will, hopefully, allow him to deal with the blood pressure issue without having to lie down, and so he can be more discreet if he is in school or around his peers.
Even having a technique like this may help him avoid future faints, since part of his anxiety about the blood may actually be his fear of fainting and the discomfort that it brings. If he knows he can be more in charge of what is happening to his body, it may give him greater confidence, and a sense of control, such that he doesn’t feel as anxious or distressed at the sight of the blood.
In the longer term, and as he grows older, you may want to use this ATT in conjunction with some graded exposure strategies that are used for phobias. These can be hard to do, as a parent with your own child, and so you might want to bring him to a child psychologist who is experienced in dealing with anxiety and phobia. Bear in mind, though, that he is still quite young and so it might be hard to work on this element as yet.