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Strategy for the Management of Vasovagal Syncope

  • Therapy in Practice
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An Erratum to this article was published on 01 May 2002

Abstract

The disorders of autonomic control associated with orthostatic intolerance are a diverse group of syndromes that can result in syncope and near-syncope. A basic understanding of the pathophysiology of these disorders is essential to diagnosis and proper treatment. It is especially important to recognise the difference between the effect of prolonged upright posture on a failing autonomic nervous system (a hyposensitive or dysautonomic response) and the vasovagal response (which may be a hypersensitive response). Vasovagal syncope is the most common abnormal response to upright posture and occurs in all age groups. The advent of tilt table testing has helped define a population with an objective finding during provocative testing that has enabled researchers to study the mechanism of vasovagal syncope and to evaluate the efficacy of treatments. In most patients, vasovagal syncope occurs infrequently and only under exceptional circumstances and treatment is not needed. Treatment may be indicated in patients with recurrent syncope or with syncope that has been associated with physical injury or potential occupational hazard. Based on study data, patients with vasovagal syncope can now be risk stratified into a high-risk group likely to have recurrent syncope and a low-risk group.

Many patients with vasovagal syncope can be effectively treated with education, reassurance and a simple increase in dietary salt and fluid intake. In others, treatment involves removal or avoidance of agents that predispose to hypotension or dehydration. However, when these measures fail to prevent the recurrence of symptoms, pharmacological therapy is usually recommended. Although many pharmacological agents have been proposed and/or demonstrated to be effective based on nonrandomised clinical trials, there is a remarkable absence of data from large prospective clinical trials. Data from randomised placebo-controlled studies support the efficacy of β-blockers, midodrine, serotonin reuptake inhibitors and ACE inhibitors. There is also considerable clinical experience and a consensus suggesting that fludrocortisone is effective. Encouraging new data suggest that a programme involving tilt training can effectively prevent vasovagal syncope. For patients with recurrent vasovagal syncope that is refractory to these treatments, implantation of a permanent pacemaker with specialised sensing/pacing algorithms appears to be effective. A number of larger clinical trials are underway which should help further define the efficacy of a number of different treatments for vasovagal syncope.

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Acknowledgements

Grant support: This review was written when the author was supported by HL03466 from the NHLBI of the NIH. Conflict of Interests: The author is a consultant to Shire Pharmaceuticals Inc., which manufactures midodrine HCl.

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Correspondence to Daniel M. Bloomfield.

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An erratum to this article is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/BF03257460.

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Bloomfield, D.M. Strategy for the Management of Vasovagal Syncope. Drugs Aging 19, 179–202 (2002). https://doi.org/10.2165/00002512-200219030-00003

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