Objective: To provide a comprehensive review of the causes, current diagnostic evaluation, and treatment of syncope.
Data identification: New data and knowledge in this evolving field were critically analyzed by doing a MEDLINE search on syncope supplemented by selective review of English language literature citations in the Index Medicus before 1980.
Study selection: We reviewed approximately 200 published articles on syncope and closely related topics as well as using our own clinical experience. We selected articles if they addressed the pathophysiology of syncope, classification and causes, differential diagnosis, noninvasive and invasive evaluation, and current therapy.
Results of data synthesis: Syncope is a common clinical problem, occurring in 30% to 50% of the adult population. The prognosis for syncope depends on its cause. Cardiac syncope has the worst prognosis and therefore mandates thorough evaluation and prompt treatment. Diagnostic evaluation is made difficult by the transient nature of the episodes and the many causes. Noninvasive testing reveals the cause of syncope in approximately 50% of cases. More extensive evaluation, including invasive electrophysiologic studies, has assumed a larger role in defining the cause of syncope in selected patients with structural heart disease in whom a noninvasive evaluation has been nondiagnostic. Recently tilt-table studies have been proposed as a clinically useful noninvasive test for vagally mediated syncope.
Conclusions: A rational stepwise diagnostic and therapeutic approach to patients with syncope can be developed by initially doing a careful history and physical examination followed by a noninvasive evaluation and selective use of additional, more specialized or invasive tests. Future research should focus on defining the validity and utility of current diagnostic testing in syncope and on exploring further the pathophysiology of patients with recurrent, unexplained syncope.