HF an Added Risk in COVID-19, Regardless of Ejection Fraction

Patrice Wendling

November 02, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

People with a history of heart failure — no matter the type — face more complications and death than their peers without heart failure (HF) once hospitalized with COVID-19, a new observational study shows.

A history of HF was associated with a near doubling risk of in-hospital mortality and ICU care and more than a tripling risk of mechanical ventilation despite adjustment for 18 factors including race, obesity, diabetes, previous treatment with renin–angiotensin–aldosterone system (RAAS) inhibitors, and severity of illness.

Adverse outcomes were high regardless of whether patients had HF with a preserved, mid-range, or reduced left ventricular ejection fraction (HFpEF/HFmrEF/HFrEF).

"That for me was the real zinger," senior author Anuradha Lala, MD, told theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology. "Because as clinicians, oftentimes, and wrongly so, we think this person has preserved ejection fraction, so they're not needing my heart failure expertise as much as someone with heart failure with reduced ejection fraction."

In the peak of the pandemic, that may have meant triaging patients with HFpEF to a regular floor, whereas those with HFrEF were seen by the specialist team.  

"What this alerted me to is to take heart failure as a diagnosis very seriously, regardless of ejection fraction, and that is very much in line with all of the emerging data about heart failure with preserved ejection fraction," said Lala, from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

"Now when I see patients in the clinic, I incorporate part of our visit to talking about what they are doing to prevent COVID, which I really wasn't doing before. It was like 'Oh yeah, what crazy times we're dealing with' and then addressing their heart failure as I normally would," she said. "But now, interwoven into every visit is: Are you wearing a mask, what's your social distancing policy, who are you living with at home, has anyone at home or who you've interacted with been sick? I'm asking those questions just as a knee-jerk reaction for these patients because I know the repercussions. We have to keep in mind these are observational studies, so I can't prove causality but these are observations that are, nonetheless, quite robust."

Although cardiovascular disease, including HF, is recognized as a risk factor for worse outcomes in COVID-19 patients, data are sparse on the clinical course and prognosis of patients with preexisting HF.

"I would have expected that there would have been a gradation of risk from the people with very low ejection fractions up into the normal range, but here it didn't seem to matter at all. So that's an important point that bad outcomes were independent of ejection fraction," commented Lee Goldberg, MD, professor of medicine and chief of advanced heart failure and cardiac transplant at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

The study also validated that there is no association between use of RAAS inhibitors and bad outcomes in patients with COVID-19, he said.

Although this has been demonstrated in several studies, concerns were raised early in the pandemic that angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers could facilitate infection with SARS-CoV-2 and increase the risk of severe or lethal COVID-19.  

"For most clinicians that question has been put to bed, but we're still getting patients that will ask during office visits 'Is it safe for me to stay on?' They still have that doubt [about] 'Are we doing the right thing?' " Goldberg said.

"We can reassure them now. A lot of us are able to say there's nothing to that, we're very clear about this, stay on the meds. If anything, there's data that suggest actually it may be better to be on an ACE inhibitor; that the hospitalizations were shorter and the outcomes were a little bit better."  

For the current study, published online October 28 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the investigators analyzed 6439 patients admitted for COVID-19 at one of five Mount Sinai Health System hospitals in New York between February 27 and June 26. Their mean age was 65.3 years, 45% were women, and one third were treated with RAAS inhibitors before admission.

Using ICD-9/10 codes and individual chart review, HF was identified in 422 patients (6.6%), of which 250 patients had HFpEF (≥50%), 44 had HFmrEF (41% to 49%), and 128 had HFrEF (≤40%).

Patients with HFpEF were older, more frequently women with a higher body mass index and history of lung disease than patients with HFrEF, whereas those with HFmrEF fell in between.

The HFpEF group was also treated with hydroxychloroquine or macrolides and noninvasive ventilation more frequently than the other two groups, whereas antiplatelet and neurohormonal therapies were more common in the HFrEF group.

Patients with a history of HF had significantly longer hospital stays than those without HF (8 days vs 6 days), increased need for intubation (22.8% vs 11.9%) and ICU care (23.2% vs 16.6%), and worse in-hospital mortality (40% vs 24.9%).

After multivariable regression adjustment, HF persisted as an independent risk factor for ICU care (odds ratio [OR], 1.71; 95% CI, 1.25 - 2.34), intubation and mechanical ventilation (OR, 3.64; 95% CI, 2.56 - 5.16), and in-hospital mortality (OR, 1.88; 95% CI, 1.27 - 2.78).

"I knew to expect higher rates of adverse outcomes but I didn't expect it to be nearly a twofold increase," Lala said. "I thought that was pretty powerful."

No significant differences were seen across LVEF categories in length of stay, need for ICU care, intubation and mechanical ventilation, acute kidney injury, shock, thromboembolic events, arrhythmias, or 30-day readmission rates.

However, cardiogenic shock (7.8% vs 2.3% vs 2%) and HF-related causes for 30-day readmissions (47.1% vs 0% vs 8.6%) were significantly higher in patients with HFrEF than in those with HFmrEF or HFpEF.

Also, mortality was lower in those with HFmrEF (22.7%) than with HFrEF (38.3%) and HFpEF (44%). The group was small but the "results suggested that patients with HFmrEF could have a better prognosis, because they can represent a distinct and more favorable HF phenotype," the authors write.

The statistical testing didn't show much difference and the patient numbers were very small, noted Goldberg. "So they might be overreaching a little bit there."

"To me, the take-home message is that just having the phenotype of heart failure, regardless of EF, is associated with bad outcomes and we need to be vigilant on two fronts," he said. "We really need to be doing prevention in the folks with heart failure because if they get COVID their outcomes are not going to be as good. Second, as clinicians, if we see a patient presenting with COVID who has a history of heart failure we may want to be much more vigilant with that individual than we might otherwise be. So I think there's something to be said for kind of risk-stratifying people in that way."

Goldberg pointed out that the study had many "amazing strengths," including a large, racially diverse population, direct chart review to identify HF patients, and capturing a patient's specific HF phenotype.  

Weaknesses are that it was a single-center study, so the biases of how these patients were treated are not easily controlled for, he said. "We also don't know when the hospital system was very strained as they were making some decisions: were the older patients who had advanced heart and lung disease ultimately less aggressively treated because they felt they wouldn't survive."

Lala has received personal fees from Zoll, outside the submitted work. Coauthor c onflict of interest disclosures are listed in the original article. Goldberg reported research funding with Respicardia and consulting fees from Abbott.

J Am Coll Cardiol. Published online October 28, 2020. Full text

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