Atypical Prodromal Symptoms Help to Distinguish Patients With Psychogenic Nonsyncopal Collapse Among Youth Referred for Fainting

Pediatric Neurology
21 May, 2019 ,

Geoffrey L. Heyer et.al. conducted a study to understand how patients with psychogenic nonsyncopal collapse (PNSC) perceive and communicate the prodromal symptoms associated with their attacks by comparing narratives between patients with PNSC and those with syncope. The researchers concluded that symptom narratives are of great help in  distinguish patients with PNSC from those with real syncope. 

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Background

Distinguishing patients with psychogenic nonsyncopal collapse (PNSC), a conversion disorder that resembles syncope, can pose a difficult clinical challenge. Using the open-ended question “what does it feel like to faint?,” the present study aimed to characterize how patients with PNSC perceive and communicate the prodromal symptoms associated with their attacks by comparing narratives between patients with PNSC and those with syncope.

Methods

During a 42-month database-type study of tilt-table diagnoses, all patients with a history of fainting were asked the open-ended question. Symptom descriptions were compared, qualitatively and quantitatively, between patients with PNSC and those with tilt-induced syncope (n = 121 in both cohorts).

Results

Twenty-nine patients (24%) diagnosed with PNSC and eight (6.6%) diagnosed with syncope either denied having any prodromal symptoms or could not recall any symptoms (P < 0.001). Among patients who reported prodromal symptoms, patient narratives led to the formation of 26 symptom categories. Symptom frequencies differed between cohorts in 19 of the symptom categories (each P value <0.05). Qualitative differences in the descriptions of symptoms were often present, even when symptom frequencies did not differ. More patients with PNSC described atypical symptoms than patients with syncope, 54 of 92 (58.7%) versus eight of 113 (7.1%), P < 0.001.

Conclusions

Symptom narratives can help to distinguish patients with PNSC from those with syncope. The use of a single, open-ended question as a screening tool for conversion disorder has immediate clinical relevance because it can be instituted easily in a busy clinical setting.