Evaluation and outcome of emergency room patients with transient loss of consciousness

Am J Med. 1982 Jul;73(1):15-23. doi: 10.1016/0002-9343(82)90913-5.


We identified 198 patients who presented to our emergency room with transient loss of consciousness. Seizures (29 percent of patients) and vasovagal/psychogenic episodes (40 percent of patients) were the most common presumptive causes of loss of consciousness, but the cause of loss of consciousness remained uncertain even at follow-up in 11 +/- 6 months in 13 percent of the patients. The history and physical examinations were sufficient for diagnosis in 85 percent of the patients in whom a diagnosis could be established. These data guided inpatient and outpatient with potentially dangerous causes of loss of consciousness except for one patient who had pulmonary embolism. In selected patient, diagnostic tests such as blood chemistries (three patients), electrocardiograms (four patients) electroencephalograms (three patients), and Holter monitoring (four patients) provided crucial information, and CT scans identified new brain tumors in four patients with focal neurologic presentations. At the time of follow-up, 7.5 percent of patients had suffered either major morbidity or death related to the cause of the index episode of loss of consciousness. Patients with cardiac causes represented a high risk (33 percent) group for such poor outcome, whereas patients who were under age 30, or who were under age 70 and had loss of consciousness on a vasovagal/psychogenic or unknown basis, constituted a low risk (1 percent) subgroup.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Boston
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical History Taking
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Examination
  • Prognosis
  • Risk
  • Seizures / complications
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Unconsciousness / diagnosis*