Multiple causes of syncope in the elderly: diagnostic outcomes of a Dutch multidisciplinary syncope pathway

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Abstract

Aims

To assess the diagnostic outcomes of a multidisciplinary pathway for elderly syncope patients.

Methods and results

Observational cohort study at a Fall and Syncope Clinic, including consecutive syncope patients aged ≥65 years between 2011 and 2014. Measurements: The sort, number, and accuracy of diagnoses resulting in syncope. Secondary outcomes: reliability of the medical history and the number of electrocardiogram (ECG) abnormalities. The 117 included patients (72% females) had a mean age of 80 ± 6.5 years and a mean of 11 ± 5 (mainly cardiovascular) comorbidities. We found 212 contributing diagnoses. Symptomatic orthostatic/postprandial hypotension was present in 45%, cardiac causes in 44% (rhythm or conduction disorders 24%, aortic stenosis 4%, cardiomyopathies 2%, suspected cardiac causes 15%), and reflex syncope in 21%; 6% remained without any explanation. The diagnosis of the cause of syncope was uncertain in 34.2%, probable in 15.4%, and definite/most likely in 50.4%. Cognitive impaired patients were less likely to give a reliable medical history regarding their syncope (72% vs. 98% in cognitive intact patients, P = 0.001). In only 25% of patients a useful eyewitness account was available. 64% of ECGs showed relevant abnormalities; 26% was suggestive of cardiac syncope, of which 20% showed an indication for device implantation.

Conclusion

The majority of our elderly syncope patients had multiple contributing factors, often in addition to their primary diagnosis. Orthostatic/postprandial hypotension and cardiac disorders were the most frequent. Using a multidisciplinary approach, one or more possible explanations for the syncope were found in 94% of patients, with a definite diagnosis in 50%.

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