Elusive evidence pervades ESC’s 2016 heart failure guidelines




FLORENCE, ITALY – The 2016 revision of the European Society of Cardiology’s guidelines for diagnosing and treating acute and chronic heart failure highlights the extent to which thinking in the field has changed during the past 4 years, since the prior edition in 2012.

The new European guidelines, unveiled by the ESC’s Heart Failure Association during the group’s annual meeting, also underscore the great dependence that many new approaches have on expert opinion rather than what’s become the keystone of guidelines writing, evidence-based medicine. Frequent reliance on consensus decisions rather than indisputable proof from controlled trials defines what some U.S. specialists see as a divide as wide as the Atlantic between the European and U.S. approaches to guideline writing.

Dr. Mariell L. Jessup Mitchel L. Zoler/Frontline Medical News

Dr. Mariell L. Jessup

“The guidelines from the ESC are articulated very well; they made their recommendations very clear. But a lot is consensus driven, without new data,” said Dr. Mariell L. Jessup, who serves as both vice chair of the panel currently revising the U.S. heart failure guidelines – expected out later in 2016 – and was also the sole American representative on the panel that produced the ESC guidelines. “The ESC guidelines make clear all the things that need to happen to patients. I hope it will result in better patient care. We are clearly not doing a good job in heart failure. We not only don’t have evidence-based treatments, but people often don’t do a good job [caring for heart failure patients] and they die in the hospital all the time.”

Dr. Javed Butler, another member of the U.S. guidelines panel and professor and chief of cardiology at Stony Brook (N.Y.) University, called the U.S. and European divide a “philosophical perspective of evidence-based medicine.

“U.S. physicians should read the ESC guidelines and make up their own minds. The ESC guidelines are excellent and give you perspective. But U.S. regulatory and payment issues will be driven by U.S. guidelines,” Dr. Butler said in an interview.

Dr. Mandeep R. Mehra Mitchel L. Zoler/Frontline Medical News

Dr. Mandeep R. Mehra

But despite their limitations and the limited weight that the ESC guidelines carry for U.S. practice, they have many redeeming features, noted Dr. Mandeep R. Mehra, medical director of the Heart and Vascular Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The 2016 ESC guidelines “are extraordinarily clear, very practical, and very concise. They are very usable, and provide a fantastic algorithm for managing patients with heart failure with reduced ejection fraction [HFrEF],” he said while discussing the guidelines during the meeting.

U.S. and Europe largely agree on sacubitril/valsartan and ivabradine

Clearly the greatest area of U.S. and European agreement was in the adoption by both guidelines groups of sacubitril/valsartan (Entresto) and ivabradine (Corlanor) as important new components of the basic drug formula for treating patients with HFrEF. In fact, the U.S. guideline writers saw these two additions as so important and timely that they issued a “focused update” in May to the existing, 2013 U.S. heart failure guidelines, and timed release of this update to occur on May 20, 2016, a day before release of the ESC guidelines. But as Dr. Butler noted, this was more of a temporal harmonization than a substantive one, because even here, in a very evidence-based change, the U.S. guidelines for using sacubitril/valsartan differed subtly but importantly from the ESC version.

The U.S. focused update says that treatment of patients with stage C (symptomatic heart failure with structural heart disease) HFrEF should receive treatment with sacubitril/valsartan (also know as an angiotensin receptor neprilysin inhibitor, or ARNI), an ACE inhibitor, or an angiotensin receptor blocker (ARB), as well as evidence-based treatment with a beta-blocker and with a mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist (MRA). A subsequent recommendation in the U.S. focused update said that HFrEF patients with chronic symptoms and New York Heart Association class II or III disease should switch from a stable, tolerated regimen with either an ACE inhibitor or ARB to treatment with sacubitril/valsartan.

Dr. Javed Butler Courtesy Stony Brook University

Dr. Javed Butler

In contrast, the new European guideline for sacubitril/valsartan recommends starting patients on this combination formulation only after first demonstrating that patients tolerated treatment with an ACE inhibitor or ARB for at least 30 days and determining that patients remained symptomatic while on one of these treatments. In short, the U.S. guideline gives a green light to starting patients with newly diagnosed, symptomatic HFrEF on sacubitril/valsartan immediately, while the European guideline only sanctions sacubitril/valsartan to start after a patient has spent at least 30 days settling into a multidrug regimen featuring an ACE inhibitor or an ARB when an ACE inhibitor isn’t well tolerated.


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