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[Syncope - a systematic overview of classification, pathogenesis, diagnosis and management]

M J Hilz, H Marthol, B Neundörfer
Fortschritte der Neurologie-Psychiatrie 2002, 70 (2): 95-107
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Syncope is defined as a temporary interruption of cerebral perfusion with a sudden and transient loss of consciousness and spontaneous recovery. Approximately one third of the population experiences syncope at least once during a lifetime. Presyncopal signs and symptoms, including weakness, headache, blurred vision, diaphoresis, nausea, and vomiting are sometimes present for seconds or minutes prior to loss of consciousness. After syncope, the patients may present with persisting drowsiness, headache, dizziness, nausea, but not usually confusion. Causes of syncope have been categorized as cardiovascular, non-cardiovascular, and unexplained. Cardiovascular causes can be subdivided into structural heart disease, coronary heart disease, and arrhythmia. Non-cardiovascular causes include neurological, metabolic, psychiatric and other disorders.Orthostatic hypotension - one of the most frequent causes of syncope - has manifold etiologies comprising various neurological and internal diseases. Orthostatic hypotension usually can be attributed to an impairment of peripheral vasoconstriction or to a reduction of the intravascular volume. Signs and symptoms, including the above prodromi are often present just after rising from a supine or sitting position. Frequently, blood pressure decreases significantly without an increase in heart rate. Autonomic cardiovascular modulation is often reduced. Many of the patients with "unexplained" syncope experience neurally mediated (i. e. neurocardiogenic or vasovagal) syncope. In these patients, cardiovascular control may be stable for an extended period of time during orthostatic stress, then there is a sudden decrease in blood pressure and heart rate. Neurocardiogenic or neurally mediated syncope can be associated with painful or emotionally stressful situations such as anxiety or fear, with prolonged standing or specific trigger situations such as micturition, defecation, coughing or sneezing, visceral or carotid sinus stimulation, or with trigeminal or glossopharyngeal neuralgia. So far, the mechanisms of neurocardiogenic syncope are not completely understood. The passive 60 degrees to 70 degrees head-up tilt test is useful for the diagnosis of orthostatic and neurally mediated syncope. The sensitivity of the test can be improved by additional pharmacological provocation, e. g. by isoproterenol, or by increased orthostatic stress using lower body negative pressure stimulation. For the treatment of syncope one should first consider non-pharmacological options. Patients with orthostatic hypotension should avoid rapid changes of the body position from supine to standing, as well as high room temperature or other situations inducing peripheral vasodilatation. An increased intake of sodium and fluids, mild physical exercise or so-called postural counter-maneuvers can improve orthostatic tolerance. Among the drugs recommended for pharmacologic treatment are mineralocorticoids (e. g. fludrocortisone), vasoconstrictor agents (e. g. ephedrine, midodrine), adenosine receptor blockers (theophylline) and beta2-blockers (propanolol), anticholinergic agents, e. g. scopolamine or disopyramide, and negative cardiac inotropes, e. g. beta1-adrenergic blockers or disopyramide. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (e. g. fluoxetine, sertraline), alpha2-adrenergic agonists (clonidine), central nervous system stimulants such as methylphenidate or phentermine are thought to be beneficial in specific cases. Cardiac pacemakers often seem to be recommended without adequate indication. The antidiuretic, V2-receptor specific, vasopressin analogue desmopressin increases the intravascular volume. Erythropoietin improves anemia and red blood cell decrease and augments blood pressure and cerebral oxygenation. In postprandial hypotension, octreotide, a somatostatin analogue, prostaglandin inhibitors such as indomethacin or ibuprofen, as well as metoclopramide or two cups of coffee per day might be beneficial.

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