Vol 21, No 6 (2014)
Review Article
Published online: 2014-12-18

open access

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Does any therapy really work for neurocardiogenic syncope?

Nathaniel M. Hawkins, Andrew D. Krahn
DOI: 10.5603/CJ.2014.0094
Cardiol J 2014;21(6):616-624.


Effectiveness of a treatment for neurocardiogenic syncope can be defined in terms of symptom response, quality-of-life, healthcare utilization, treatment side effects and cost-effectiveness. Most trials have focused on syncope recurrence or burden, without assessing quality-of-life formally. Drug and device interventions are characterized by a dearth of randomized controlled trials, with those few of robust design demonstrating little impact on recurrence of syncope. General advice includes hydration, trigger recognition and counter pressure maneuvers to attenuate episodes. Lifestyle recommendations have limited comparative effectiveness evidence, but are favored due to lack of side effects and low cost. The frequency of syncope improves in many patients regardless of the intervention, although ultimate recurrence of syncope remains high. In the minority of patients seeking treatment due to recurrence, midodrine has reasonable supporting evidence for effectiveness with some evidence for beta-blockers in older age patients. Emerging evidence favors pacing in patients with asystole during spontaneous (as opposed to provoked) syncope. Combining long-term implantable cardiac monitoring, tilt and adenosine triphosphate testing may yet accurately define the optimal minority who benefit from pacing. In the remaining majority, pharmacologic and device interventions should be used sparingly until clear benefits are established. Better understanding of patient fears, beliefs and behaviors may help develop cognitive therapies and improve quality-of-life alongside the focus on physical symptoms.