Commentary

New studies change beliefs about cardiovascular disease


 

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Recently, there have been a series of published studies in the realm of cardiovascular disease that have changed certain beliefs we’ve held in the past. I’m going to review a few of these.

The first is the TIME study. The TIME study looked at whether it matters if you give antihypertensive agents in the morning or the evening. This was a prospective, pragmatic, parallel-group study that was performed in the U.K. and published in The Lancet.

Their question was whether evening dosing of antihypertensives has benefit in cardiovascular outcomes in adults. They enrolled over 21,000 people with hypertension who were taking at least one antihypertensive medication. Patients were randomized to morning or evening dosing.

The primary outcome was death or hospitalization due to myocardial infarction or stroke. There was no difference. It doesn’t matter if you take your antihypertensive agent in the morning or the evening. I think this is important because, clinically, the simpler the regimen for the patient, the greater the adherence, leading to better outcomes.

I know I can safely ask a patient when they would rather take their medicine. For many people, that may be the morning because they’re brushing their teeth and they remember. If they want to take it in the evening, that’s fine, too. We’re no longer slave to telling a patient to take their antihypertensive medications in the evening.

At the meeting of the American Society of Nephrology, results from a study on the use of renin-angiotensin system (RAS) inhibitors in advanced CKD was presented, called the STOP ACEi trial. Again, another interesting trial asking a simple question. This was a randomized controlled trial (RCT) in patients who had an estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) less than 30, and they were randomized to stop or continue therapy with their RAS inhibitors.

The primary outcome was the eGFR at 3 years. They enrolled 411 patients with a median baseline eGFR of 18. At 3 years, there was no difference in the eGFR between the groups. In the discontinuation group, the eGFR was 12.6 versus 13.3 in the continuation group. There were no differences in complications or anything else. Their conclusion was that among patients with advanced and progressive CKD, the discontinuation of a RAS inhibitor was not associated with a significant difference in the long-term rate of decrease in eGFR.

I think this is important because it changes our paradigm a bit. You can stop the RAS inhibitor; reduce the need for excessive medication in these patients; and, hopefully, focus on some newer medications that have been shown to prevent the decline in eGFR that are now available.

Next is from a letter published in JAMA, which asks the following question: Is diabetes itself an equivalent cardiovascular risk factor to those who have had a prior cardiovascular event?

We used to put having diabetes in that same high-risk category as people who’d already had a cardiovascular disease event. Well, have we made that any different? These authors are from Canada, and they did a retrospective population-based study looking at administrative health claims from Ontario, Canada, to assess the association of diabetes and prior cardiovascular disease with cardiovascular events from 1994 to 2014.

What I think is kind of cool, because I’m a diabetologist, is that over time the magnitude of the association between diabetes and cardiovascular event rates decreased. In somebody with diabetes, they don’t have the same high risk that a person who’s already had a cardiovascular event rate does. Diabetes is less of a risk factor for cardiovascular disease than having established cardiovascular disease, which means we’re treating diabetes better and reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease.

If you look at people with diabetes and a prior cardiovascular event, that’s still the very highest risk. The risk of people having another event who have established cardiovascular disease is pretty flat. Those people didn’t get better and the people with preexisting diabetes and cardiovascular events at baseline didn’t get much better, but those who had diabetes alone did improve in terms of looking at cardiovascular event rates.

I think this is good news because diabetes itself isn’t as high a cardiovascular risk factor as we once thought. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t a cardiovascular risk factor, but I think we’ve done better at mitigating the risk.

Finally, there is a relatively small study that was presented at the American Heart Association and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, which asks whether supplements that are often used to lower LDL cholesterol are equivalent to a statin.

They compared six supplements with a placebo and with rosuvastatin, and looked to see what happened. This is not an outcome study, but a very short study, at 28 days, that used a placebo. They included 190 people with no history of cardiovascular disease but an increased 10-year risk for sclerotic cardiovascular disease.

The agents studied were rosuvastatin, placebo, fish oil, cinnamon, garlic, turmeric, plant sterols, and red yeast rice. Well, not surprisingly, rosuvastatin worked. It showed a 35% reduction in LDL cholesterol, and there was no significant impact on cholesterol levels with any of the other agents. The supplements yielded a similar response, as did the placebo. Side effects were similar, but they were most common with plant sterols and red yeast rice.

Clearly, a statin is better if you want to lower cholesterol levels. My approach, when patients want to take supplements, is to tell them what I know factually, which basically is that they don’t really cause much in the way of LDL cholesterol lowering. If I think the supplement isn’t going to hurt someone, I don’t tell them not to use it. I certainly tell them that they need to use agents that we know can actually reduce cardiovascular risk.

I think these studies really go through the gamut of asking questions. When can we stop an agent? What time of day do we need to give an agent? What, really, is the risk for type 2 diabetes with regard to cardiovascular events? What’s the value of supplements?

I think this is interesting, because I really encourage researchers to ask and answer these kinds of questions because it helps us clinically decide what’s best for treating our patients.

Thank you.

Dr. Peters is a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and director of the USC clinical diabetes programs. She reported conflicts of interest with numerous pharmaceutical companies.

A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.

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