A framework to simplify paediatric syncope diagnosis

Eur J Pediatr. 2023 Nov;182(11):4771-4780. doi: 10.1007/s00431-023-05114-w. Epub 2023 Jul 20.

Abstract

This paper aims to improve the diagnosis of syncope and transient loss of consciousness (TLOC) in children. Diagnostic problems stem, first, from some causes spanning various disciplines, e.g. cardiology, neurology and psychiatry, while the most common cause, vasovagal syncope, is not embraced by any specialty. Second, clinical variability is huge with overlapping signs and symptoms. Third, the approach to TLOC/syncope of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) is underused in childcare. We explain the ESC guidelines using an additional paediatric literature review. Classification of TLOC and syncope is hierarchic and based on history taking. Loss of consciousness (LOC) is defined using three features: abnormal motor control including falling, reduced responsiveness and amnesia. Adding a < 5 min duration and spontaneous recovery defines TLOC. TLOC simplifies diagnosis by excluding long LOC (e.g. some trauma, intoxications and hypoglycaemia) and focussing on syncope, tonic-clonic seizures and functional TLOC. Syncope, i.e. TLOC due to cerebral hypoperfusion, is divided into reflex syncope (mostly vasovagal), orthostatic hypotension (mostly initial orthostatic hypotension in adolescents) and cardiac syncope (arrhythmias and structural cardiac disorders). The initial investigation comprises history taking, physical examination and ECG; the value of orthostatic blood pressure measurement is unproven in children but probably low. When this fails to yield a diagnosis, cardiac risk factors are assessed; important clues are supine syncope, syncope during exercise, early death in relatives and ECG abnormalities. Conclusions: In adults, the application of the ESC guidelines reduced the number of absent diagnoses and costs; we hope this also holds for children. What is Known: • Syncope and its mimics are very common in childhood, as they are at other ages. • Syncope and its mimics provide considerable diagnostic challenges. What is New: • Application of the hierarchic framework of transient loss of consciousness (TLOC) simplifies diagnosis. • The framework stresses history-taking to diagnose common conditions while keeping an eye on cardiac danger signs.

Keywords: Childcare; Diagnosis; Risk; Seizures; Syncope; Unconsciousness.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Heart Diseases*
  • Humans
  • Hypotension, Orthostatic* / complications
  • Hypotension, Orthostatic* / diagnosis
  • Syncope / diagnosis
  • Syncope / etiology
  • Syncope, Vasovagal* / complications
  • Syncope, Vasovagal* / diagnosis
  • Unconsciousness / diagnosis
  • Unconsciousness / etiology