Conference Coverage

Treatment of heart failure with preserved ejection fraction is a work in progress


 

EXPERT ANALYSIS FROM WCIRDC 2019

– When it comes to the optimal treatment of patients with heart failure with preserved ejection fraction and diabetes, cardiologists like Mark T. Kearney, MB ChB, MD, remain stumped.

Dr. Mark T. Kearney British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiovascular & Diabetes Research at the Leeds Institute of Cardiovascular & Metabolic Medicine, United Kingdom. Courtesy Dr. Mark T. Kearney

Dr. Mark T. Kearney

“Over the years, the diagnosis of heart failure with preserved ejection fraction has been notoriously difficult [to treat], controversial, and ultimately involves aggressive catheterization of the heart to assess diastolic dysfunction, complex echocardiography, and invasive tests,” Dr. Kearney said at the World Congress on Insulin Resistance, Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease. “These patients have an ejection fraction of over 50% and classic signs and symptoms of heart failure. Studies of beta-blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, and angiotensin II receptor blockers have been unsuccessful in this group of patients. We’re at the beginning of a journey in understanding this disorder, and it’s important, because more and more patients present to us with signs and symptoms of heart failure with an ejection fraction greater than 50%.”

In a recent analysis of 1,797 patients with chronic heart failure, Dr. Kearney, British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiovascular and Diabetes Research at the Leeds (England) Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine, and colleagues examined whether beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors were associated with differential effects on mortality in patients with and without diabetes (Diabetes Care. 2018;41:136-42). Mean follow-up was 4 years.

For the ACE inhibitor component of the trial, the researchers correlated the dose of ramipril to outcomes and found that each milligram increase of ramipril reduced the risk of death by about 3%. “In the nondiabetic patients who did not receive an ACE inhibitor, mortality was about 60% – worse than most cancers,” Dr. Kearney said. “In patients with diabetes, there was a similar pattern. If you didn’t get an ACE inhibitor, mortality was 70%. So, if you get patients on an optimal dose of an ACE inhibitor, you improve their mortality substantially, whether they have diabetes or not.”

The beta-blocker component of the trial yielded similar results. Each milligram of bisoprolol reduced the risk of death over a mean of 4 years by about 3% in patients without diabetes and 9% in those with diabetes. “Among patients who did not receive a beta-blocker, the mortality was about 70% at 5 years – really terrible,” he said. “Every milligram of bisoprolol was associated with a reduction in mortality of about 9%. So, if a patient gets on an optimal dose of a beta-blocker and they have diabetes, it’s associated with prolongation of life over a year.”

Dr. Kearney said that patients often do not want to take an increased dose of a beta-blocker because of concerns about side effects, such as tiredness. “They ask me what the side effects of an increased dose would be. My answer is: ‘It will make you live longer.’ Usually, they’ll respond by agreeing to have a little bit more of the beta-blocker. The message here is, if you have a patient with ejection fraction heart failure and diabetes, get them on the optimal dose of a beta-blocker, even at the expense of an ACE inhibitor.”

In 2016, the European Society of Cardiology introduced guidelines for physicians to make a diagnosis of heart failure with preserved ejection fraction. The guidelines mandate that a diagnosis requires signs and symptoms of heart failure, elevated levels of natriuretic peptide, and echocardiographic abnormalities of cardiac structure and/or function in the presence of a left ventricular ejection fraction of 50% or more (Eur J Heart Fail. 2016;18[8]:891-975).

“Signs and symptoms of heart failure, elevated BNP [brain natriuretic peptide], and echocardiography allow us to make a diagnosis of heart failure with preserved ejection fraction,” Dr. Kearney, who is also dean of the Leeds University School of Medicine. “But we don’t know the outcome of these patients, we don’t know how to treat them, and we don’t know the impact on hospitalizations.”

In a large, unpublished cohort study conducted at Leeds, Dr. Kearney and colleagues evaluated how many patients met criteria for heart failure with reduced ejection fraction or heart failure with preserved ejection fraction after undergoing a BNP measurement. Ultimately, 959 patients met criteria. After assessment, 23% had no heart failure, 44% had heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, and 33% had heart failure with reduced ejection fraction. They found that patients with preserved ejection fraction were older (mean age, 84 years); were more likely to be female; and had less ischemia, less diabetes, and more hypertension. In addition, patients with preserved ejection fraction had significantly better survival than patients with reduced ejection fraction over 5 years follow-up.

“What was really interesting were the findings related to hospitalization,” he said. “All 959 patients accounted for 20,517 days in the hospital over 5 years, which is the equivalent of 1 patient occupying a hospital bed for 56 years. This disorder [heart failure with preserved ejection fraction], despite having a lower mortality than heart failure with reduced ejection fraction, leads to a significant burden on health care systems.”

Among patients with preserved ejection fraction, 82% were hospitalized for a noncardiovascular cause, 6.9% because of heart failure, and 11% were caused by other cardiovascular causes. Most of the hospital admissions were because of chest infections, falls, and other frailty-linked causes. “This link between systemic frailty and heart failure with preserved ejection fraction warrants further investigation,” Dr. Kearney said. “This is a major burden on patient hospital care.”

When the researchers examined outcomes in patients with and without diabetes, those with diabetes were younger, more likely to be male, and have a higher body mass index. They found that, in the presence of diabetes, mortality was increased in heart failure with preserved and reduced ejection fraction. “So, even at the age of 81 or 82, diabetes changes the pathophysiology of mortality in what was previously believed to be a benign disease,” he said.

In a subset analysis of patients with and without diabetes who were not taking a beta-blocker, there did not seem to be increased sympathetic activation in the patients with diabetes and heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, nor a difference in heart rate between the nondiabetic patients and patients with diabetes. However, among patients with heart failure with reduced ejection fraction, those with diabetes had an increased heart rate.

“Is heart failure with preserved ejection fraction in diabetes benign? I think the answer is no,” Dr. Kearney said. “It increases hospitalization and is a major burden on health care systems. What should we do? We deal with comorbidity and fall risk. It’s good old-fashioned doctoring, really. We address frailty and respiratory tract infections, but the key thing here is that we need more research.”

Dr. Kearney reported having no relevant financial disclosures.

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