Orthostatic syndromes differ in syncope frequency

Am J Med. 2010 Mar;123(3):245-9. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2009.09.018.


Background: There are conflicting opinions on whether postural tachycardia syndrome predisposes to syncope. We investigated this relationship by comparing the frequency of syncope in postural tachycardia syndrome and orthostatic hypotension.

Methods: We queried our autonomic laboratory database of 3700 patients. Orthostatic hypotension and postural tachycardia syndrome were defined in standard fashion, except that postural tachycardia syndrome required the presence of orthostatic symptoms and a further increase in heart rate beyond 10 minutes. Syncope was defined as an abrupt decrease in blood pressure and often, heart rate, requiring termination of the tilt study. Statistical analysis utilized Fisher's exact test and Student's t test, as appropriate.

Results: Of 810 patients referred for postural tachycardia syndrome, 185 met criteria while another 328 patients had orthostatic hypotension. Of the postural tachycardia syndrome patients, 38% had syncope on head-up tilt, compared with only 22% of those with orthostatic hypotension (P<.0001). In the postural tachycardia group, syncope on head-up tilt was associated with a clinical history of syncope in 90%, whereas absence of syncope on head-up tilt was associated with a clinical history of syncope in 30% (P<.0001). In contrast, syncope on head-up tilt did not bear any relationship to clinical history of syncope in the orthostatic hypotension group (41% vs 36%; P=.49).

Conclusion: Our results demonstrate that syncope (both tilt table and clinical) occurs far more commonly in patients who have postural tachycardia syndrome than in patients with orthostatic hypotension. These findings suggest that one should be clinically aware of the high risk of syncope in patients with postural tachycardia syndrome, and the low-pressure baroreceptor system that is implicated in postural tachycardia syndrome might confer more sensitivity to syncope than the high pressure system implicated in orthostatic hypotension.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypotension, Orthostatic / diagnosis
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Syncope / diagnosis*
  • Syncope / epidemiology
  • Syncope / physiopathology
  • Tilt-Table Test
  • United States / epidemiology

Grants and funding