Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 14, Issue 11, pp 677–687 | Cite as

Epidemiology of syncope in hospitalized patients

  • William S. Getchell
  • Greg C. Larsen
  • Cynthia D. Morris
  • John H. McAnulty


OBJECTIVE: To describe the etiologies of syncope in hospitalized patients and determine the factors that influence survival after discharge.

DESIGN: Observational retrospective cohort.

SETTING: Department of Veterans Affairs hospital, groupmodel HMO, and Medicare population in Oregon.

PATIENTS: Hospitalized individuals (n=1,516; mean age±SD, 73.0±13.4 years) with an admission or discharge diagnosis of syncope (ICD-9-CM 780.2) during 1992, 1993, or 1994.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: During a median hospital stay of 3 days, most individuals received an electrocardiogram (97%) and prolonged electrocardiographic monitoring (90%), but few underwent electrophysiology testing (2%) or tilt-table testing (0.7%). The treating clinicians identified cardiovascular causes of syncope in 19% of individuals and noncardiovascular causes in 40%. The remaining 42% of individuals were discharged with unexplained syncope. Complete heart block (2.4%) and ventricular tachycardia (2.3%) were rarely identified as the cause of syncope. Pacemakers were implanted in 28% of the patients with cardiovascular syncope and 0.4% of the others. No patient received an implantable defibrillator. All-cause mortality±SE was 1.1%±0.3% during the admission, 13%±1% at 1 year, and 41%±2% at 4 years. The adjusted relative risk (RR) of dying for individuals with cardiovascular syncope (RR 1.18; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.92, 1.50) did not differ from that for unexplained syncope (RR 1.0) and noncardiovascular syncope (RR 0.94; 95% CI 0.77, 1.16).

CONCLUSIONS: Among these elderly patients hospitalized with syncope, noncardiovascular causes were twice as common as cardiovascular causes. Because survival was not related to the cause of syncope, clinicians cannot be reassured that hospitalized elderly patients with noncardiovascular and unexplained syncope will have excellent outcomes.

Key Words

syncope prognosis mortality 


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • William S. Getchell
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
  • Greg C. Larsen
    • 2
    • 4
  • Cynthia D. Morris
    • 3
  • John H. McAnulty
    • 2
  1. 1.Received from the Department of Public Health and Preventative MedicineOregon Health Sciences UniversityPortland
  2. 2.Division of Cardiology in the Department of MedicineOregon Health Sciences UniversityPortland
  3. 3.Division of Medical Informatics and Outcomes ResearchOregon Health Sciences UniversityPortland
  4. 4.Cardiology Section, P3-CARDPortland VA Medical CenterPortland

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