Suspension syncope

Loss of consciousness can occur when a patient is suspended in a harness – ‘suspension syncope’, probably due to factors that include venous pooling in the lower limbs. An evidence based review of this entity was carried out:

The possibility of a fall into rope protection and subsequent suspension exists in some industrial situations. The action to take for the first aid management of rescued victims has not been clear, with some authors advising against standard first aid practices. To clarify the medical evidence relating to harness suspension the UK Health and Safety Executive commissioned an evidence-based review and guideline. Four key questions were posed relating to the incidence, circumstances, recognition and first aid management of the medical effects of harness suspension. A comprehensive literature search returned 60 potential papers with 29 papers being reviewed. The Scottish Intercollegiate Guideline Network (SIGN) methodology was used to critically review the selected papers and develop a guideline. A stakeholders’ workshop was held to review the evidence and draft recommendations. Nine papers formed the basis of the guideline recommendations. No data on the incidence of harness suspension syncope were found. Presyncopal symptoms or syncope are thought to occur with motionless suspension as a consequence of orthostasis leading to hypotension. There was no evidence of any other pathology, despite this being hypothesised by others. No evidence was found that showed the efficacy or safety of positioning a victim in a semirecumbent position. In any case of harness suspension, the standard UK first aid guidance for recovery of a semiconscious or unconscious person in a horizontal position should be followed. Other recommendations included areas for further research and proposals for standard data collection on falls into rope protection.

Harness suspension and first aid management: development of an evidence-based guideline
Emerg Med J 2011;28:265-268

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