JOURNAL ARTICLE
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Evaluation of syncope

Thomas H Miller, Jerry E Kruse
American Family Physician 2005 October 15, 72 (8): 1492-500
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Though relatively common, syncope is a complex presenting symptom defined by a transient loss of consciousness, usually accompanied by falling, and with spontaneous recovery. Syncope must be carefully differentiated from other conditions that may cause a loss of consciousness or falling. Syncope can be classified into four categories: reflex mediated, cardiac, orthostatic, and cerebrovascular. A cardiac cause of syncope is associated with significantly higher rates of morbidity and mortality than other causes. The evaluation of syncope begins with a careful history, physical examination, and electrocardiography. Additional testing should be based on the initial clinical evaluation. Older patients and those with underlying organic heart disease or abnormal electrocardiograms generally will need additional cardiac evaluation, which may include prolonged electrocardiographic monitoring, echocardiography, and exercise stress testing. When structural heart disease is excluded, tests for neurogenic reflex-mediated syncope, such as head-up tilt-table testing and carotid sinus massage, should be performed. The use of tests such as head computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, carotid and transcranial ultrasonography, and electroencephalography to detect cerebrovascular causes of syncope should be reserved for those few patients with syncope whose history suggests a neurologic event or who have focal neurologic signs or symptoms.

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