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  1. Lennart Bergfeldt
  1. Correspondence to:
    Professor Lennart Bergfeldt, Electrophysiology and Arrhythmia Service, Department of Cardiology, Karolinska Hospital, S-171 76 Stockholm, Sweden;

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Transient loss of consciousness is a dramatic symptom, which has many possible mechanisms and hence different therapeutic, psychosocial, and prognostic implications. It is a common cause both for emergency room visits and for hospitalisation, and has recently been the topic of a task force within the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).1Syncope is a symptom, defined as a transient, self limited loss of consciousness with a relatively rapid onset and usually leading to falling; the subsequent recovery is spontaneous, complete, and usually prompt. The underlying mechanism is a transient global cerebral hypoperfusion. Seizure is, according to the same document, synonymous with an epileptic fit, which is the manifestation of a paroxysmal discharge of abnormal rhythms in some part of the brain, and “Epilepsy is then defined as a condition in which seizures recur, usually spontaneously”.2 The diagnosis thus requires that the episodes are spontaneous or unprovoked and recurrent.3 In order to differentiate between syncope and seizure, videotelemetry with simultaneous electroencephalographic (EEG) and electrocardiographic (ECG) recording with multiple scalp and chest electrodes is required—a situation that is rarely fulfilled.

There are clinically important relations between cardiovascular causes of syncope and seizure disorders (fig 1). Involuntary movements, often referred to as myoclonic jerks, may accompany syncope due to cardiovascular causes and create a differential diagnostic problem against seizure with important therapeutic and prognostic implications. These implications are basically: the underlying disease may not receive proper treatment, and some cardiac causes of syncope carry a considerable mortality risk; bradycardias might be aggravated by some (ion channel active) antiepileptic drugs (AEDs); and a diagnosis of epilepsy may also lead to significant psychosocial consequences.4 Put slightly differently: “Hardly anyone with epilepsy will come to any harm from a delay in diagnosis whereas a false positive diagnosis is gravely damaging”. …

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