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J R Soc Med. 1996 Jul;89(7):372-5.

Recognizing syncope: pitfalls and surprises.

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MRC Human Movement and Balance Unit, National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, London, England.


Loss of consciousness and falling are the key features of syncope. Common accompaniments include tonic and myoclonic muscle activity, eye deviations, automatisms, vocalizations and hallucinations which may render the distinction from epileptic seizures difficult. Differential diagnosis is based on the specific features and not the mere presence of these phenomena. Recognition of syncope depends also on accurate information about precipitants, premonitory symptoms and postictal events: the absence of postictal confusion has been identified as the single most powerful factor discriminating syncope from epileptic seizures whereas incontinence and head injury are common in both conditions. Investigations such as electroencephalogram, tilt testing and postictal prolactin or creatine kinase levels may be helpful but are never diagnostic in isolation. Exceptionally, hypoxic and epileptic mechanisms interact within a single attack.

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