Do symptoms predict cardiac arrhythmias and mortality in patients with syncope?

Arch Intern Med. 1999 Feb 22;159(4):375-80. doi: 10.1001/archinte.159.4.375.


Background: Patients with syncope frequently present with multitude of other symptoms but their significance in predicting morbidity or mortality has not been previously studied.

Objective: To determine if certain symptoms can be used to identify syncope patients at risk for cardiac arrhythmias, mortality, or recurrence of syncope.

Patients and methods: From August 1987 to February 1991, we prospectively evaluated patients with syncope from outpatient, inpatient, and emergency department services of a university medical center. These patients were interviewed, charts were reviewed, and detailed information on 19 symptoms and comorbidities was obtained. A cause of syncope was assigned using standardized diagnostic criteria. All patients were followed up at 3-month intervals for at least 1 year for recurrence of syncope and mortality. Patients in whom the cause of syncope was determined by medical history and physical examination alone were not included in our analysis.

Results: History and physical examination led to the cause of syncope in 222 of 497 patients enrolled. In the remaining 275 patients, the absence of nausea and vomiting before syncope (odds ratio, 7.1) and electrocardiographic abnormalities (odds ratio, 23.5) were predictors of arrhythmic syncope. Underlying cardiac disease was the only predictor of 1-year mortality. No symptom remained as independent predictor for 1-year mortality or syncope recurrence.

Conclusions: Symptoms, although important in assigning many noncardiac causes, are not useful in risk-stratifying patients whose cause of syncope cannot be identified by other history and physical examination. Triage decisions and management plans should be based on pre-existing cardiac disease or electrocardiographic abnormalities, which are important predictors of arrhythmic syncope and mortality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / etiology*
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / mortality*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Recurrence
  • Risk
  • Syncope / complications*
  • Syncope / mortality*