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The overlap between syncope and falls in the elderly.
  1. F. E. Shaw,
  2. R. A. Kenny
  1. Department of Medicine (Geriatric Medicine), Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.

    Abstract

    Syncope and falls are often considered to be two separate diagnoses with two separate sets of aetiologies. However, although it remains controversial, the existence of an overlap between syncope and falls is becoming increasingly acknowledged. In the elderly, determining the cause of a fall can be difficult. Approximately 30% of cognitively normal elderly people are unable to recall documented falls three months later and a witness account for syncopal events is unavailable in about 50% of patients. We have found that in almost 40% of patients in whom an attributable diagnosis of carotid sinus syndrome was made, the only presenting symptoms were falls alone or falls with dizziness; syncope was denied. Amnesia for loss of consciousness can be demonstrated in over 20% of all patients with a diagnosis of carotid sinus syndrome and in 50% of those patients who present only with falls or falls and dizziness. There is a suggestion from studies in postprandial hypotension and orthostatic hypotension, where similar haemodynamic changes are found in patients complaining of either syncope or falls, that this phenomenon may be generalisable. The importance of the presence of an overlap between syndrome and falls in the elderly lies in the healthcare implications of missed diagnoses of cardiovascular syncope for which there are established effective treatments. Consideration of syncope in the differential diagnosis of unexplained falls should reduce the numbers of falls for which no attributable diagnosis is found and result in an improved standard of health care for elderly patients who fall.

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