Neuroautonomic evaluation of patients with unexplained syncope: incidence of complex neurally mediated diagnoses in the elderly

Martina Rafanelli, Alessandro Morrione, Annalisa Landi, Emilia Ruffolo, Valentina M Chisciotti, Maria A Brunetti, Niccolò Marchionni, Andrea Ungar
Clinical Interventions in Aging 2014, 9: 333-8

BACKGROUND: The incidence of syncope increases in individuals over the age of 70 years, but data about this condition in the elderly are limited. Little is known about tilt testing (TT), carotid sinus massage (CSM), or supine and upright blood pressure measurement related to age or about patients with complex diagnoses, for example, those with a double diagnosis, ie, positivity in two of these three tests.

METHODS: A total of 873 consecutive patients of mean age 66.5±18 years underwent TT, CSM, and blood pressure measurement in the supine and upright positions according to the European Society of Cardiology guidelines on syncope.1 Neuroautonomic evaluation was performed if the first-line evaluation (clinical history, physical examination, electrocardiogram) was suggestive of neurally mediated syncope, or if the first-line evaluation was suggestive of cardiac syncope but this diagnosis was excluded after specific diagnostic tests according to European Society of Cardiology guidelines on syncope, or if certain or suspected diagnostic criteria were not present after the first-line evaluation.

RESULTS: A diagnosis was reached in 64.3% of cases. TT was diagnostic in 50.4% of cases, CSM was diagnostic in 11.8% of cases, and orthostatic hypotension was present in 19.9% of cases. Predictors of a positive tilt test were prodromal symptoms and typical situational syncope. Increased age and a pathologic electrocardiogram were predictors of carotid sinus syndrome. Varicose veins and alpha-receptor blockers, nitrates, and benzodiazepines were associated with orthostatic hypotension. Twenty-three percent of the patients had a complex diagnosis. The most frequent association was between vasovagal syncope and orthostatic hypotension (15.8%); 42.9% of patients aged 80 years or older had a complex diagnosis, for which age was the strongest predictor.

CONCLUSION: Neuroautonomic evaluation is useful in older patients with unexplained syncope after the initial evaluation. A complex neurally mediated diagnosis is frequent in older people. Our results suggest that complete neuroautonomic evaluation should be done particularly in older patients.

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