SCAI issues guidelines for PFO management, makes case for expansion



The first-ever guidelines for interventional cardiologists using percutaneous patent foramen ovale closure recommend expanding the use of the procedure beyond the Food and Drug Administration–approved indication following PFO-associated ischemic stroke, adding clarification about the use of PFO with anticoagulation and hedging against abuse and overuse of the procedure, said the chair of the guideline writing committee.

“The most important things surrounding these guidelines are to help clinicians and policymakers – third-party payers – to address PFO in patient subsets that were not included in the large randomized clinical trials that led to FDA approval,” said writing group chair Clifford J. Kavinsky, MD, PhD, chief of structural and interventional cardiology at Rush University Medical Center, Chicago.

The Society for Cardiovascular Angiography & Interventions issued the guidelines at its annual scientific sessions meeting in Atlanta and published them simultaneously in the society’s journal.

The guidelines issue strong and conditional recommendations. The former means clinicians should order the intervention for most patients; the latter means decisionmaking is more nuanced and should consider contributing factors.

The guidelines clarify patient selection for PFO closure outside the “pretty narrow” indication the FDA approved, Dr. Kavinsky said, which is for PFO-associated ischemic stroke in patients aged 18-60 years.

“So what about patients who are older than 60? What about patients who had their stroke 10 years ago?” Dr. Kavinsky asked. “Those are issues that were unanswered in the randomized clinical trials.”

The guidelines also refine recommendations about anticoagulation in these patients, including its use after PFO closure in selected patients, Dr. Kavinsky noted. “It’s the opinion of the panel that although anticoagulants may be effective, because of issues of noncompliance, because of issues of interruption of therapy by physicians for a variety of reasons, including surgery or noncompliance, that it is preferable to do a PFO device closure to giving anticoagulant therapy.”

Many of the recommendations cover PFO closure alongside antiplatelet or anticoagulation therapy. Key conditional recommendations for patients who haven’t had a PFO-related stroke are:

  • Avoiding its routine use in patients with chronic migraines, prior decompression illness (DCI), thrombophilia, atrial septal aneurysm, transient ischemic attack (TIA), or deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
  • Considering PFO closure in patients with platypnea-orthodeoxia syndrome (POS) with no other discernible cause of hypoxia or systemic embolism in whom other embolic causes have been ruled out.

In patients who’ve had a PFO-related stroke, the guidelines strongly recommend PFO closure versus antiplatelet therapy alone, but conditionally, not in patients with atrial fibrillation who’ve had an ischemic stroke. They also conditionally suggest PFO closure rather than long-term antiplatelet therapy alone in PFO stroke patients aged 60 and older, as well as those with thrombophilia already on antiplatelet therapy but not anticoagulation. However, the guidelines make no recommendation on PFO closure based on how much time has passed since the previous stroke.

“Furthermore,” Dr. Kavinsky said, “in patients who require lifelong anticoagulation because of recurrent DVT or recurrent pulmonary emboli or thrombopenia, if they’ve had a PFO-mediated stroke, then it’s our opinion that they should have their PFO closed in addition to taking lifelong anticoagulation because of the same issues of noncompliance and interruption of therapy.” Those are conditional recommendations.

The guideline also checks a box in the FDA labeling that mandated agreement between cardiology and neurology in patient selection. The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) issued its own guideline in 2020 for patients with stroke and PFO. In Europe, the European Society of Cardiology issued two position papers on expanded applications of PFO closure.

The recommendations on when PFO closure shouldn’t be done are noteworthy, Dr. Kavinsky said. “PFOs are present in 25% of the adult population, so the number of patients with PFO is huge and the indication for the FDA is really narrow: to reduce the risk of recurrent stroke in patients with PFO-mediated stroke. So, there’s the tremendous potential for abuse out there, of excessive procedures, of doing unnecessary procedures.”

The guidelines are a follow-up to the operator institutional requirements document SCAI issued in 2019 that set requirements for hospital offering and physicians performing PFO closure, Dr. Kavinsky added.

In an editorial accompanying the published guideline, Robert J. Sommer, MD, and Jamil A. Aboulhosn, MD, wrote that they support the recommendations “which help spotlight and clarify the growing list of potential indications for PFO closure.” They noted that the guidelines panel’s “strong” recommendations were for indications validated by randomized trials and that “conditional” recommendations were based on panelists’ experience and observational data.

“It is critical to recognize that most of these guidelines represent consensus opinion only,” wrote Dr. Sommer, who specializes in adult congenital and pediatric cardiology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, New York, and Dr. Aboulhosn, an interventional cardiologist at Ronald Reagan University of California, Los Angeles, Medical Center. They emphasized the guidelines’ “heavy emphasis” on shared decisionmaking with patients.

Dr. Kavinsky is a principal investigator for Edwards Lifesciences, W.L. Gore and Associates, Medtronic, and Abbott. Dr. Sommer is a principal investigator and investigator in studies sponsored by W.L. Gore & Associates. Dr. Aboulhosn is a consultant to Abbott Medical.

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