Aims: The randomized, double-blind Third International Study on Syncope of Uncertain Etiology (ISSUE-3) showed that dual-chamber permanent pacing was effective in reducing the recurrence of syncope in patients ≥ 40 years with severe asystolic, probably neurally mediated syncope (NMS), documented by implantable loop recorder (ILR). Analysis in ISSUE-3 was performed according to the intention-to-treat principle. In the present study, we performed an on-treatment analysis, which included additionally those non-randomized patients followed up in the ISSUE registry to evaluate in a better manner the effectiveness of cardiac pacing therapy.
Methods and results: Initially, 504 patients received an ILR, 162 (32%) patients had a diagnosis consistent with NMS within a mean observation period of 15 ± 11 months: 99 (19%) patients had documentation of syncope with ≥ 3 s asystole or ≥ 6 s asystole without syncope. Sixty patients affected by asystolic NMS received cardiac pacing therapy and 86 (33 asystolic and 53 non-asystolic NMS) were untreated; 16 patients were lost to follow-up. Paced and unpaced groups had similar clinical characteristics. During subsequent follow-up, syncope recurred in 10 paced (17%) and in 40 non-paced (46%) patients. At 21 months, the estimated product-limit syncope recurrence rates were 27% [95% confidence interval (CI) 15-47] and 54% (95% CI 43-67), respectively (P = 0.01). With cardiac pacing, the risk of recurrence was reduced by 57% (hazard ratio = 0.43, 95% CI = 0.2-0.8). Complications of pacemaker therapy were haemothorax at implantation in one patient and lead dislodgement that required correction in two patients.
Conclusion: Permanent cardiac pacing is effective in reducing recurrence of syncope in patients ≥ 40 years with severe asystolic possible NMS with a few complications. The study shows that 61% of patients with a diagnosis of NMS made by ILR received a pacemaker but 5.1 ILRs had to be implanted to find one patient who finally had a pacemaker implanted.
Keywords: Cardiac pacing; Loop recorder; Neurally- mediated syncope; Pacemaker; Syncope.