Diagnostic role of head-up tilt test in patients with cough syncope

Europace. 2016 Aug;18(8):1273-9. doi: 10.1093/europace/euv283. Epub 2016 Jan 18.


Aims: The aim of this study was to describe the head-up tilt (HUT) test and carotid sinus massage (CSM) responses, and the occurrence of syncope with coughing during HUT in a large cohort of patients.

Methods and results: A total of 5133 HUT were retrospectively analysed to identify patients with cough syncope. Head-up tilt followed by CSM were performed. Patients were made to cough on two separate occasions in an attempt to reproduce typical clinical symptoms on HUT. Patients with cough syncope were compared with 29 age-matched control patients with syncope unrelated to coughing. A total of 29 patients (26 male, age 49 ± 14 years) with cough syncope were identified. Coughing during HUT reproduced typical prodromal symptoms of syncope in 16 (55%) patients and complete loss of consciousness in 2 (7%) patients, with a mean systolic blood pressure reduction of 45 ± 26 mmHg, and a mean increase in heart rate of 13 ± 8 b.p.m. No syncope or symptoms after coughing were observed in the control group. The HUT result was positive in 13 (48%) patients with the majority of positive HUT responses being vasodepressor (70% of positive HUT). Carotid sinus massage was performed in 18 patients being positive with a vasodepressor response causing mild pre-syncopal symptoms in only 1 patient.

Conclusion: Syncope during coughing is a result of hypotension, rather than bradycardia. Coughing during HUT is a useful test in patients suspected to have cough syncope but in whom the history is not conclusive.

Keywords: Carotid sinus massage; Cough syncope; Head-up tilt test; Loss of consciousness; Sensitivity; Situational syncope.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Blood Pressure
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / classification
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / complications*
  • Carotid Sinus / physiopathology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cough / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Heart Massage*
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Syncope, Vasovagal / diagnosis*
  • Tilt-Table Test*