ACC/AHA Valvular Heart Disease Update Backs Less-Invasive Approach

Fran Lowry

January 04, 2021

The latest iteration of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association (ACC/AHA) Guideline for the Management of Patients With Valvular Heart Disease emphasizes a less invasive approach to the management of patients with valvular heart disease (VHD).

The 2020 ACC/AHA guideline now recommends transcatheter aortic valve implantation over surgical implantation for older individuals, a transcatheter edge-to-edge repair of the mitral valve for patients who are at high risk for surgery, and referral of patients with complicated conditions to designated centers.

The guideline was published online December 17 in Circulation and was simultaneously published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. It replaces the 2014 guideline and the 2017 focused update of the guideline, both published in Circulation.

"A huge amount has changed," Catherine M. Otto, MD, J. Ward Kennedy-Hamilton Endowed Chair in Cardiology and professor of medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, Washington, told | Medscape Cardiology.

Otto co-chaired the 2020 Guideline Writing Committee with Rick A. Nishimura, MD, professor of medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota.

Expanded Use of Transcatheter Procedures

"One major change is that the transcatheter valve, rather than the surgical valve, is now recommended for a large number of patients, primarily based upon the likelihood that the durability of the transcatheter valve is appropriate for the patient's life expectancy. So, in most older adults, the transcatheter valve, rather than a surgical valve, would be the treatment for severe aortic stenosis," she said.

"That's a huge change," she added. "Previously, patients had to have surgery to place a prosthetic valve, but now, many patients, particularly older adults, can have a nonsurgical approach when they are only in the hospital overnight, or sometimes even just for the day, to get their valve replaced."

The 2020 guideline also recommends the transcatheter approach over the surgical approach for mitral valve repair or replacement for individuals who are not candidates for surgery.

"We continue to recommend surgical valve repair for the mitral valve, because we know that there are excellent long-term outcomes with surgical repair," Otto said. "But, for people who are at high risk or prohibitive risk for surgery, we now have the option of again using a transcatheter approach or a transcatheter edge-to-edge repair of the valve. It's a simpler procedure, doesn't require a big incision, [and] doesn't require a long hospital stay. Those two procedures are really changing patient management," she said.

A Tiered Approach to VHD Care

A third key change is a recommendation that the US healthcare system move to a tiered approach, whereby patients with more complex conditions undergo their procedure at comprehensive, high-volume centers, and patients with simpler conditions undergo treatment at primary heart valve centers.

"More complex patients often require multidisciplinary care in order to be managed appropriately. It makes more sense to send them to a center that has the expertise and the teams in place already," Otto said.

"Patients needing more straightforward, common procedures could be seen at a primary valve center. Those needing a more complicated procedure would go to the centers with higher volumes. So an important part of what this guideline is trying to do is to get doctors to refer their patients to the appropriate center," she said.

Eagerly Anticipated

The 2020 AHA/ACC guideline has been "eagerly anticipated," write Anthony A. Bavry, MD, MPH, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas, and George J. Arnaoutakis, MD, University of Florida Health, Gainesville, Florida, in a perspective article published with the guideline in Circulation.

Bavry and Arnaoutakis endorse the guideline recommendation that the US healthcare system move to a tiered approach.

"To balance excellent outcomes and not compromise access to care, the 2020 Guideline recommends that our health care system move to a tiered approach in the treatment of valve disease, where we recognize level 1 and level 2 Centers," they write.

"The level 1 Comprehensive Heart Valve Center is an important and new introduction to the Guideline," they note. "The level 1 Center is defined by the depth and breadth of the procedures offered. While excellent outcomes are possible at lower volume centers, literature supports that higher center and operator volumes of valve procedures are associated with excellent results and low mortality."

The authors point out that level 2 primary valve centers offer many of the same valve procedures as the level 1 centers but are limited by the scope of procedures they can offer.

"For example, specialized procedures such as alternative access TAVR, valve-in-valve TAVR, transcatheter edge-to-edge mitral valve repair, paravalvular leak closure, and percutaneous mitral balloon commissurotomy are recommended to be performed at a level 1 Center," they write.

Transcatheter valve therapies remain "an exciting and dynamic field which offers patients a less invasive treatment option," Bavry and Arnaoutakis conclude. They also caution that the pros and cons of the newer, less invasive therapies need to be weighed against the benefits of surgical procedures that have been studied and refined for more than 50 years.

Patients with VHD have many choices and will require help making informed decisions about such things as a mechanical valve vs a bioprosthetic valve or undergoing a traditional surgical procedure vs a catheter-based approach. "Other patients, at the extremes of age or risk status, will lean more clearly to one direction or another," Bavry and Arnaoutakis add.

"Overall, the 2020 Guideline is a comprehensive document that should provide a useful framework for the Heart Valve Team," they conclude.

The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Circulation. Published online December 17, 2020. Executive summary, Guideline, Perspective

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