COVID-19–positive patients undergoing an invasive strategy for acute coronary syndrome presented hours later than uninfected historical controls, had a far higher incidence of cardiogenic shock, and their in-hospital mortality rate was four- to fivefold greater, according to data from the Global Multicenter Prospective COVID–ACS Registry. These phenomena are probably interrelated, according to, who presented the registry results at the Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics virtual annual meeting.
“We know that increasing ischemic time leads to bigger infarcts. And we know that bigger infarcts lead to cardiogenic shock, with its known higher mortality,” said Dr. Gershlick, professor of interventional cardiology at the University of Leicester (England).
“These data suggest that patients may have presented late, likely due to COVID concerns, and they had worse outcomes. If these data are borne out, future public information strategies need to be reassuring, proactive, simple, and more effective because we think patients stayed away,” the cardiologist added. “There are important public information messages to be taken from these data about getting patients to come to hospital during such pandemics.”
He presented prospectively collected registry data on 144 patients with confirmed ST-elevation MI (STEMI) and 122 with non-ST–elevation MI (NSTEMI), all COVID-19 positive on presentation at 85 hospitals in the United Kingdom, Europe, and North America during March through August of 2020. Since the initial message to the public early in the pandemic in many places was to try to avoid the hospital, the investigators selected for their no-COVID comparison group the data on more than 22,000 STEMI and NSTEMI patients included in two British national databases covering 2018-2019.
The COVID-positive STEMI patients were significantly younger, had more comorbidities, and had a higher mean heart rate and lower systolic blood pressure at admission than the non-COVID STEMI control group. Their median time from symptom onset to admission was 339 minutes, compared with 178 minutes in controls. Their door-to-balloon time averaged 83 minutes, versus 37 minutes in the era before the pandemic.
“I suspect that’s got something to do with the donning and doffing of personal protective equipment,” he said at the meeting sponsored by the Cardiovascular Research Foundation.
The in-hospital mortality rates were strikingly different: 27.1% in COVID-positive STEMI patients versus 5.7% in controls. Bleeding Academic Research Consortium type 3-5 bleeding was increased as well, by a margin of 2.8% to 0.3%. So was stroke, with a 2.1% in-hospital incidence in COVID-positive STEMI patients and a 0.1% rate in the comparator arm.
“But the biggest headline here for me was that the cardiogenic shock rate was 20.1% in the COVID-positive patients versus 8.7% in the non-COVID STEMI patients,” the cardiologist continued.
The same pattern held true among the COVID-positive NSTEMI patients: They were younger, sicker, and slower to present to the hospital than the non-COVID group. The in-hospital mortality rate was 6.6% in the COVID-positive NSTEMI patients, compared with 1.2% in the reference group. The COVID-positive patients had a 2.5% bleeding rate versus 0.1% in the controls. And the incidence of cardiogenic shock was 5%, compared with 1.4% in the controls from before the pandemic.
“Even though NSTEMI is traditionally regarded as lower risk, this is really quite dramatic. These are sick patients,” Dr. Gershlick observed.
Nearly two-thirds of in-hospital deaths in COVID-positive ACS patients were cardiovascular, and three-quarters of those cardiovascular deaths occurred in patients with cardiogenic shock. Thirty-two percent of deaths in COVID-positive ACS patients were of respiratory causes, and 4.9% were neurologic.
Notably, the ischemic time of patients with cardiogenic shock who died – that is, the time from symptom onset to balloon deployment – averaged 1,271 minutes, compared with 441 minutes in those who died without being in cardiogenic shock.
Session comoderator, director of endovascular services at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, commented, “One of the striking things that is resonating with me is the high incidence of cardiogenic shock and the mortality. It’s akin to what we’ve seen in New York.”
Discussant, said he doubts that the increased in-hospital mortality in the COVID–ACS registry is related to the prolonged time to presentation at the hospital. More likely, it’s related to the greater thrombotic burden various studies have shown accompanies COVID-positive ACS. It might even be caused by a direct effect of the virus on the myocardium, added Dr. Fuster, director of the Zena and Michael A. Wiener Cardiovascular Institute and professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
“I have to say I absolutely disagree,” responded Dr. Gershlick. “I think it’s important that we try to understand all the mechanisms, but we know that patients with COVID are anxious, and I think one of the messages from this registry is patients took longer to come to hospital, they were sicker, they had more cardiogenic shock, and they died. And I don’t think it’s anything more complicated than that.”
Another discussant,, is involved with a 500-patient U.K. pandemic ACS registry nearing publication. The findings, he said, are similar to what Dr. Gershlick reported in terms of the high rate of presentation with cardiogenic shock and elevated in-hospital mortality. The COVID-positive ACS patients were also more likely to present with out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. But like Dr. Fuster, he is skeptical that their worse outcomes can be explained by a delay in seeking care.
“I don’t think the delay in presentation is really associated with the high mortality rate that we see. The delay in our U.K. registry is maybe half an hour for STEMIs and maybe 2-3 hours for NSTEMIs. And I don’t think that can produce a 30%-40% increase in mortality,” asserted Dr. Mamas, professor of cardiology at Keele University in Staffordshire, England.
Dr. Gershlick reported having no financial conflicts regarding his presentation.