The diagnostic sensitivity of electrophysiologic testing in patients with syncope caused by transient bradycardia

N Engl J Med. 1989 Dec 21;321(25):1703-7. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198912213212503.


Although electrophysiologic testing accurately delineates abnormalities in patients with fixed cardiac-conduction defects, its sensitivity in identifying transient rhythm disturbances is unknown. We prospectively studied 21 patients who had electrocardiographically documented intermittent atrioventricular block (n = 13) or sinus pauses (n = 8) causing syncope, but whose cardiac rhythm had reverted to normal by the time of referral. There were 14 men and 7 women, with a mean age (+/- SD) of 63 +/- 13 years. Fourteen patients had organic heart disease, and 8 were taking cardioactive medications. Electrophysiologic testing was performed before the implantation of a permanent pacemaker. Only three of the eight patients with documented sinus pauses had abnormalities during their tests that suggested the correct diagnosis (sensitivity, 37.5 percent), including a prolonged sinus-node recovery time in one and carotid-sinus hypersensitivity in two. Three of the eight patients had abnormalities detected that were unrelated to syncope, including atrial flutter, dual atrioventricular nodal pathways, and sustained monomorphic ventricular tachycardia. Of the 13 patients with documented atrioventricular block, only 2 had abnormalities suggesting the correct diagnosis (sensitivity, 15.4 percent). Additional observations unrelated to syncope among these 13 patients included abnormal sinus-node function, atrial flutter, and atrial fibrillation causing hypotension. These preliminary observations suggest that a negative electrophysiologic test in a patient with a normal cardiac rhythm who has experienced syncope does not exclude a transient bradyarrhythmia as a cause of the syncope. Furthermore, electrophysiologic testing may sometimes reveal unrelated rhythm disturbances that may mistakenly be designated as the cause of the syncope.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bradycardia / complications
  • Bradycardia / diagnosis*
  • Bradycardia / physiopathology
  • Electrocardiography*
  • Female
  • Heart Block / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Syncope / etiology
  • Syncope / physiopathology*