From the Journals

Ten tips for managing patients with both heart failure and COPD



Patients with both chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart failure (HF) are prone to hospital readmissions that detract from quality of life and dramatically drive up care costs.

Because the two chronic diseases spring from the same root cause and share overlapping symptoms, strategies that improve clinical outcomes in one can also benefit the other, Ravi Kalhan, MD, and R. Kannan Mutharasan, MD, wrote in CHEST Journal (doi: 10.1016/j.chest.2018.06.001).

“Both conditions are characterized by periods of clinical stability punctuated by episodes of exacerbation and are typified by gradual functional decline,” wrote the colleagues, both of Northwestern University, Chicago. “From a patient perspective, both conditions lead to highly overlapping patterns of symptoms, involve complicated medication regimens, and have courses highly sensitive to adherence and lifestyle modification. Therefore, disease management strategies for both conditions can be synergistic.”

The team came up with a “Top 10 list” of practical tips for reducing readmissions in patients with this challenging combination.

Diagnose accurately

An acute hospitalization is often the first time these patients pop up on the radar. This is a great time to employ spirometry to accurately diagnose COPD. It’s also appropriate to conduct a chest CT and check right heart size, diameter of the pulmonary artery, and the presence of coronary calcification. The authors noted that relatively little is known about the course of patients with combined asthma and HF in contrast to COPD and HF.

Detect admissions for exacerbations early

Check soon to find out if this is a readmission, get an acute plan going, and don’t wait to implement multidisciplinary interventions. “First, specialist involvement can occur more rapidly, allowing for faster identification of any root causes driving the HF or COPD syndromes, and allowing for more rapid institution of treatment plans to control the acute exacerbation. Second, early identification during hospitalization allows time to deploy multidisciplinary interventions, such as disease management education, social work evaluation, follow-up appointment scheduling, and coordination of home services. These interventions are less effective, and are often not implemented, if initiated toward the end of hospitalization.”

Use specialist management in the hospital

Get experts on board fast. An integrated team means a coordinated treatment plan that’s easier to follow and more effective therapeutically. Specialist care may impact rates of readmission: weight loss with diuretics; discharge doses of guideline-directed medical therapy for heart failure; and higher rates of discharge on long-acting beta-agonists, long-acting muscarinic antagonists, inhaled corticosteroids, and home supplemental oxygen.

Modify the underlying disease substrate

Heart failure is more likely to arise from a correctable pathophysiology, so find it early and treat it thoroughly – especially in younger patients. Ischemic heart disease, valvular heart disease, systemic hypertension, and pulmonary hypertension all have potential to make the HF syndrome more tractable.

Apply and intensify evidence-based therapies

Start in the hospital if possible; if not, begin upon discharge. “The order of application of these therapies can be bewildering, as many strategies for initiation and up-titration of these medications are reasonable. Not only are there long-term outcome benefits for these therapies, evidence suggests early initiation of HF therapies can reduce 30-day readmissions.”


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