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Diagnosis of blackouts 'inaccurate'

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Diagnosis of blackouts is often “inaccurate, inefficient and delayed”, meaning doctors could be missing serious underlying conditions such as heart disease or epilepsy, according to a health watchdog.

GPs should treat all instances in which a patient suffers a temporary loss of consciousness seriously unless there is clear evidence it has no underlying cause, and should consult specialists if they are unsure, NICE said.

Blackouts, which most often involve a fainting episode, will affect around one in two Britons in their lifetime, and causes range from standing for long periods, being stressed or anxious, not eating properly or a sudden unpleasant sight or experience.

GPs should be looking for potential neurological conditions and symptoms, such as jerky limbs during the blackout or a person biting their tongue or experiencing confusion or disorientation afterwards, the watchdog said.

Fergus Macbeth, director of the centre for clinical practice at NICE, said: “Although transient loss of consciousness is a very common symptom that the NHS deals with on a daily basis, its diagnosis can often be inaccurate, inefficient and delayed.

“For example, some people with epilepsy may also have a heart problem which has caused them to black out, which could initially be overlooked as the healthcare professional may believe that he or she already has the correct diagnosis.”

Click here to see the NICE blackouts report

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