Clinicians who diagnose and manage epilepsy frequently encounter diagnoses of a nonneurological nature, particularly when assessing patients with transient loss of consciousness (T-LOC). Among these, and perhaps the most important, is cardiac syncope. As a group, patients with cardiac syncope have the highest likelihood of subsequent sudden death, and yet, unlike sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) for example, it is the norm for these tragic occurrences to be both easily predictable and preventable. In the 12 months following initial presentation with cardiac syncope, sudden death has been found to be 6 times more common than in those with noncardiac syncope (N Engl J Med 309, 1983, 197). In short, for every patient seen with T-LOC, two fundamental aims of the consultation are to assess the likelihood of cardiac syncope as the cause, and to estimate the risk of future sudden death for the individual. This article aims to outline for the noncardiologist how to recognize cardiac syncope, how to tell it apart from more benign cardiovascular forms of syncope as well as from seizures and epilepsy, and what can be done to predict and prevent sudden death in these patients. This is achieved through the assessment triad of a clinical history and examination, risk stratification, and 12-lead electrocardiography (ECG).
Wiley Periodicals, Inc. © 2012 International League Against Epilepsy.