Syncope! Not much is more frightening to patients – here they are, minding their own business and then … the floor. What caused it? Will it happen again? Sometimes, there is an obvious cause – and that’s where the fun ends.
This is the ACC/AHA guideline for evaluation of syncope – and, thankfully, it’s quite reasonable. I attribute this, mostly (and possibly erroneously) to the fantastic ED syncope guru Ben Sun being on the writing committee. Only a very small part of this document is devoted to the initial evaluation of syncope in the Emergency Department, and their strong recommendations boil down to:
- Perform a history and physical examination
- Perform an electrocardiogram
- Try to determine the cause of syncope, and estimate short- and long-term risk
- Don’t send people home from the hospital if you identify a serious medical cause
These are all straightforward things we already routinely do as part of our basic evaluation of syncope. They go on further to clearly state, with weaker recommendations, there are no other mandated tests – and that routine screening bloodwork, imaging, or cardiac testing is likely of no value.
With regard to disposition:
“The disposition decision is complicated by varying resources available for immediate testing, a lack of consensus on acceptable short-term risk of serious outcomes, varying availability and expertise of outpatient diagnostic clinics, and the lack of data demonstrating that hospital-based evaluation improves outcomes.”
Thus, the authors allow for a wide range of possible disposition decisions, ranging from ED observation on a structured protocol to non-specific outpatient management.
The rest of the document provides recommendations more relevant to cardiology management of those with specific medical causes identified, although tables 5, 6, and 7 do a fairly nice job of summarizing some of the risk-factors for serious outcomes, and some of the highlights of syncope risk scores. While it doesn’t provide much concrete guidance, it at least does not set any low-value medicolegal precedent limiting your ability to make appropriate individual treatment decisions.
“2017 ACC/AHA/HRS Guideline for the Evaluation and Management of Patients With Syncope”