Syncope accounts for six percent of all hospital patient admissions and is a common and frequently debilitating symptom in older patients. The common causes of syncope in older populations are orthostasis, cardiac arrhythmias, neurocardiogenic syncope, and carotid sinus hypersensitivity. The cause of syncope can usually be deduced or suspected by simple initial clinical evaluation. Arrhythmic syncope will usually require ambulatory ECG monitoring or possibly an implantable loop recorder for precise diagnosis. Neurocardiogenic syncope can be frequently confirmed with a tilt-table test and carotid sinus hypersensitivity by careful carotid sinus stimulation during ECG rhythm monitoring. A permanent pacemaker is indicated for all types of symptomatic bradycardia whether complete AV block, severe sinus bradycardia, or the bradycardia-tachycardia syndrome in patients with sinus node dysfunction. Pacemaker therapy is also indicated to prevent certain pause-dependent tachyarrhythmias, although its role in atrial fibrillation remains controversial unless there is clear evidence of bradycardia-tachycardia sequence. Pacing therapy can also effectively treat syncope due to carotid sinus hypersensitivity when the cardioinhibitory component (heart rate slowing) predominates. The role of pacing therapy for neurocardiogenic (vasovagal) syncope remains controversial.
Key words: syncope, pacemakers, neurocardiogenic, carotid sinus, bradycardia-tachycardia.
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