Value and limitations of clinical electrophysiologic study in assessment of patients with unexplained syncope

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      We assessed the value of clinical electrophysiologic study using intracardiac recording and programed electrical stimulation in 34 patients who had unexplained syncope and/or presyncope. All patients had normal electrocardiograms, and no abnormality was detected by clinical examination, ambulatory electrocardiographic recording, or treadmill testing. The electrophysiologic results were diagnostic in four patients (11.8 percent) and led to appropriate therapy that totally relieved symptoms. The results were abnormal but not diagnostic in two patients (5.8 percent) and normal in the remaining 28 patients (82.4 percent). The patients were followed for a mean period of 15 months (range two to 44) after electrophysiologic testing. Sixteen patients (47 percent) had no further episodes in the absence of any intervention. In four patients (11.8 percent), a definitive diagnosis was made during follow-up. In seven patients, permanent pacing was instituted empirically with relief of syncope. Two patients continued to have syncopal spells. We conclude that the diagnostic yield of electrophysiologic testing is low in a patient population that has no electrocardiographic abnormality or clinical evidence of cardiac disease. Empirical permanent pacing in patients with symptoms continuing after our study appeared to be beneficial, but this result is difficult to evaluate because of the high incidence of spontaneous remission in this group. Persistent attempts to document electrocardiographic abnormalities during a typical episode of symptoms appears to be the only definitive way to confirm or exclude an arrhythmic cause of the symptoms.
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