Week 47 – Transfusion Strategies for Upper GI Bleeding

“Transfusion Strategies for Acute Upper Gastrointestinal Bleeding”

N Engl J Med. 2013 Jan 3;368(1):11-21. [free full text]

A restrictive transfusion strategy of 7 gm/dL was established following the previously discussed 1999 TRICC trial. Notably, both TRICC and its derivative study TRISS excluded patients who had an active bleed. In 2013, Villanueva et al. performed a study to establish whether there was benefit to a restrictive transfusion strategy in patients with acute upper GI bleeding.

The study enrolled consecutive adults presenting to a single center in Spain with hematemesis (or bloody nasogastric aspirate), melena, or both. Notable exclusion criteria included: a clinical Rockall score* of 0 with a hemoglobin level higher than 12g/dL, massive exsanguinating bleeding, lower GIB, patient refusal of blood transfusion, ACS, stroke/TIA, transfusion within 90 days, recent trauma or surgery

*The Rockall score is a system to assess risk for further bleeding or death on a scale from 0-11. Higher scores (3-11) indicate higher risk. Of the 648 patients excluded, the most common reason for exclusion (n = 329) was low risk of bleeding.

Intervention: restrictive transfusion strategy (transfusion threshold Hgb = 7.0 gm/dL) [n = 444]

Comparison: liberal transfusion strategy (transfusion threshold Hgb = 9.0 gm/dL) [n = 445]

During randomization, patients were stratified by presence or absence of cirrhosis.

As part of the study design, all patients underwent emergent EGD within 6 hours and received relevant hemostatic intervention depending on the cause of bleeding.

Primary outcome: 45-day mortality

Secondary outcomes, selected:

      • Incidence of further bleeding associated with hemodynamic instability or hemoglobin drop > 2 gm/dL in 6 hours
      • Incidence and number of RBC transfusions
      • Other products and fluids transfused
      • Hgb level at nadir, discharge, and 45 days

Subgroup analyses: Patients were stratified by presence of cirrhosis and corresponding Child-Pugh class, variceal bleeding, and peptic ulcer bleeding. An additional subgroup analysis was performed to evaluate changes in hepatic venous pressure gradient between the two strategies.

The primary outcome of 45-day mortality was lower in the restrictive strategy (5% vs. 9%; HR 0.55, 95% CI 0.33-0.92; p = 0.02; NNT = 24.8). In subgroup analysis, this finding remained consistent for patients who had Child-Pugh class A or B but was not statistically significant among patients who had Class C. Further stratification for variceal bleeding and peptic ulcer disease did not make a difference in mortality.

Secondary outcomes:
Rates of further bleeding events and RBC transfusion, as well as number of products transfused, were lower in the restrictive strategy. Subgroup analysis demonstrated that rates of re-bleeding were lower in Child-Pugh class A and B but not in C. As expected, the restrictive strategy also resulted in the lowest hemoglobin levels at 24 hours. Hemoglobin levels among patients in the restrictive strategy were lower at discharge but were not significantly different from the liberal strategy at 45 days. There was no group difference in amount of non-RBC blood products or colloid/crystalloid transfused. Patients in the restrictive strategy experienced fewer adverse events, particularly transfusion reactions such as transfusion-associated circulatory overload and cardiac complications. Patients in the liberal-transfusion group had significant post-transfusion increases in mean hepatic venous pressure gradient following transfusion. Such increases were not seen in the restrictive-strategy patients.

In patients with acute upper GI bleeds, a restrictive strategy with a transfusion threshold 7 gm/dL reduces 45-day mortality, the rate and frequency of transfusions, and the rate of adverse reactions, relative to a liberal strategy with a transfusion threshold of 9 gm/dL.

In their discussion, the authors hypothesize that the “harmful effects of transfusion may be related to an impairment of hemostasis. Transfusion may counteract the splanchnic vasoconstrictive response caused by hypovolemia, inducing an increase in splanchnic blood flow and pressure that may impair the formation of clots. Transfusion may also induce abnormalities in coagulation properties.”

Subgroup analysis suggests that the benefit of the restrictive strategy is less pronounced in patients with more severe hepatic dysfunction. These findings align with prior studies in transfusion thresholds for critically ill patients. However, the authors note that the results conflict with studies in other clinical circumstances, specifically in the pediatric ICU and in hip surgery for high-risk patients.

There are several limitations to this study. First, its exclusion criteria limit its generalizability. Excluding patients with massive exsanguination is understandable given lack of clinical equipoise; however, this choice allows too much discretion with respect to the definition of a massive bleed. (Note that those excluded due to exsanguination comprised only 39 of 648.) Lack of blinding was a second limitation. Potential bias was mitigated by well-defined transfusion protocols. Additionally, there a higher incidence of transfusion-protocol violations in the restrictive group, which probably biased results toward the null. Overall, deviations from the protocol occurred in fewer than 10% of cases.

Further Reading/References
1. Transfusion Strategies for Acute Upper GI Bleeding @ Wiki Journal Club
2. 2 Minute Medicine
3. TRISS @ Wiki Journal Club

Summary by Gordon Pelegrin, MD

Image Credit: Jeremias, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Week 46 – COURAGE


“Optimal Medical Therapy with or without PCI for Stable Coronary Disease”

by the Clinical Outcomes Utilizing Revascularization and Aggressive Drug Evaluation (COURAGE) Trial Research Group

N Engl J Med. 2007 Apr 12;356(15):1503-16 [free full text]

The optimal medical management of stable coronary artery disease has been well-described. However, prior to the 2007 COURAGE trial, the role of percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) in the initial management of stable coronary artery disease was unclear. It was known that PCI improved angina symptoms and short-term exercise performance in stable disease, but its mortality benefit and reduction of future myocardial infarction and ACS were unknown.

The trial recruited patients with stable coronary artery disease. (See paper for inclusion/exclusion criteria. Disease had to be sufficiently and objectively severe, but not too severe, and symptoms could not be sustained at the highest CCS grade.) Patients were randomized to either optimal medical management (including antiplatelet, anti-anginal, ACEi/ARB, and cholesterol-lowering therapy) and PCI or to optimal medical management alone. The primary outcome was a composite of all-cause mortality and non-fatal MI.

2287 patients were randomized. Both groups had similar baseline characteristics with the exception of a higher prevalence of proximal LAD disease in the medical-therapy group. Median duration of follow-up was 4.6 years in both groups. Death or non-fatal MI occurred in 18.4% of the PCI group and in 17.8% of the medical-therapy group (p = 0.62). Death, non-fatal MI, or stroke occurred in 20.0% of the PCI group and 19.5% of the medical-therapy group (p = 0.62). Hospitalization for ACS occurred in 12.4% of the PCI group and 11.8% of the medical-therapy group (p = 0.56). Revascularization during follow-up was performed in 21.1% of the PCI group but in 32.6% of the medical-therapy group (HR 0.60, 95% CI 0.51–0.71, p < 0.001). Finally, 66% of PCI patients were free of angina at 1 year follow-up compared with 58% of medical-therapy patients (p < 0.001); rates were 72% and 67% at 3 years (p=0.02) and 72% and 74% at five years (not significant).

Thus, in the initial management of stable coronary artery disease, PCI in addition to optimal medical management provided no mortality benefit over optimal medical management alone. However, initial management with PCI did provide a time-limited improvement in angina symptoms.

As the authors of COURAGE nicely summarize on page 1512, the atherosclerotic plaques of ACS and stable CAD are different. Vulnerable, ACS-prone plaques have thin caps and spread outward along the wall of the coronary artery, as opposed to the plaques of stable CAD which have thick fibrous caps and are associated with inward-directed remodeling that narrows the artery lumen (and thus cause reliable angina symptoms and luminal narrowing on coronary angiography).

Notable limitations of this study: 1) the population was largely male, white, and 42% came from VA hospitals, thus limiting generalizability of the study; 2) drug-eluting stents were not clinically available until the last 6 months of the study, so most stents placed were bare metal.

Later meta-analyses were weakly suggestive of an association of PCI with improved all-cause mortality. It is thought that there may be a subset of patients with stable CAD who achieve a mortality benefit from PCI.

The 2017 ORBITA trial made headlines and engendered sustained controversy when it demonstrated in a randomized trial that, in the context of optimal medical therapy, PCI did not increase exercise time more than did a sham-PCI. Take note of the relatively savage author’s reply to commentary regarding the trial. See blog discussion here. The ORBITA-2 trial is currently underway.

Last month, the ISCHEMIA trial was published in NEJM. It demonstrated that among patients with stable CAD and moderate to severe ischemia, an initial invasive strategy did not reduce the risk of ischemic cardiovascular events or death from any cause at a median of 3.2 years follow-up.

It is important to note that all of the above discussions assume that the patient does not have specific coronary artery anatomy in which initial CABG would provide a mortality benefit (e.g. left main disease, multi-vessel disease with decreased LVEF). Finally, PCI should be considered in patients whose physical activity is limited by angina symptoms despite optimal medical therapy.

Further Reading:
1. COURAGE @ Wiki Journal Club
2. COURAGE @ 2 Minute Medicine
3. Canadian Cardiovascular Society grading of angina pectoris
4. ORBITA-2 @ ClinicalTrials.gov
5. ISCHEMIA @ ClinicalTrials.gov
6. Discussion re: ISCHEMIA trial changes @ CardioBrief
7. ISCHEMIA full text @ NEJM

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Image Credit: National Institutes of Health, US Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Week 45 – FREEDOM

“Strategies for Multivessel Revascularization in Patients with Diabetes”

by the FREEDOM (Future Revascularization Evaluation in Patients with Diabetes Mellitus: Optimal Management of Multivessel Disease) Trial investigators

N Engl J Med. 2012 Dec 20;367(25):2375-84. [free full text]

Previous studies, such as the 1996 BARI trial, have demonstrated that patients who have multivessel coronary artery disease (CAD) and diabetes mellitus (DM) and who received coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) surgery lived longer than patients undergoing balloon angioplasty. However, since that publication, percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) technology advanced significantly. Prior to the publication of FREEDOM in 2012, there had only been small, underpowered studies comparing PCI with drug-eluting stent (DES) to CABG. FREEDOM was powered appropriately to discover superiority of revascularization strategy (PCI with DES vs. CABG) in patients with DM and multivessel CAD.


Inclusion criteria:

      • 18 years or older
      • Diabetes mellitus – defined by American Diabetes Association
      • Multivessel Coronary Artery Disease
        • > 70% stenosis (angiographically confirmed)
        • 2 or more epicardial vessels
        • 2 or more coronary-artery territories

Selected exclusion criteria:

      • NYHA Class III-IV heart failure
      • Prior CABG, valve surgery, or PCI (< 6 months)
      • Prior significant bleed (< 6 months)
      • Left main stenosis ≥ 50%

Patients meeting criteria were assigned 1:1 into PCI with first-generation paclitaxel-eluting stent (51%) or sirolimus-eluting stent (43%) versus CABG. The PCI group was placed on aspirin and clopidogrel for dual antiplatelet therapy (DAPT) for at least 12 months. For the CABG group, arterial revascularization was encouraged. The mean SYNTAX score (tool used to score complexity of CAD) was 26.2 and did not significantly differ between groups. Guideline-driven targets for lowering medical risk factors were used: LDL <70, BP <130/80, HgbA1c <7. Minimum follow-up was 2 years. 

Primary: Composite of death from any cause, non-fatal myocardial infarction (MI), and non-fatal stroke


      1. Rate of major adverse cardiovascular and cerebrovascular events at 30 days and 12 months
      2. Repeat revascularization
      3. Annual all-cause mortality
      4. Annual cardiovascular mortality

953 patients and 947 patients were randomized into the PCI and CABG groups, respectively. At 5 years, the primary outcome (combined death, MI, or stroke) occurred in 200 of the PCI group and 146 of the CABG group (26.6% vs 18.7%, p = 0.005). The curves started diverging at 2 years. All-cause mortality was higher in the PCI group versus the CABG group (16.3% vs 10.9%, p = 0.049). Regarding secondary outcomes, 13.9% of patients in the PCI group had a repeat MI versus 6.0% in the CABG group (p < 0.001). There were fewer strokes in the PCI group than in the CABG group (2.4% vs 5.2%, p = 0.03). There was no statistically significant difference between study groups regarding cardiovascular death (10.9% vs 6.8%, p = 0.12).

At 5 years, the analysis of outcomes according to category of SYNTAX score (≤ 22, 23 to 32, ≥ 33) showed no significant subgroup interaction (p = 0.58).

Regarding safety, major bleeding between the two groups at 30 days was 0.02% for PCI vs 0.04% for CABG (p = 0.13). The incidence of acute renal failure requiring hemodialysis was observed in one patient in the PCI group and eight patients in the CABG group (p = 0.02)

The BARI Trial (1996) was the first trial to show that patients with DM and multivessel CAD derive mortality benefit from bypass grafting over PCI with balloon angioplasty. Furthermore, the BARI 2D (2009) trial demonstrated this benefit of bypass grafting over PCI with bare metal stents (BMS). At the time of the FREEDOM Trial, there had not been a randomized comparison of CABG versus PCI with newer technology and first-generation paclitaxel/sirolimus DES. In this study, CABG showed a 5.3% absolute reduction in all-cause mortality over PCI as well decreased rates of MI and repeat revascularization. CABG was associated with a mild absolute increase in stroke (2.8%). However, this mild increased stroke risk is consistent with most other comparative trials of the two treatment strategies. There was no statistical difference in major bleeding between the two groups.

CABG is likely better than PCI for various reasons. For one, diabetic arteries are affected diffusely and tend to have more extensive atherosclerotic disease compared to those without diabetes, so the likelihood of successful PCI alone is low. Many suspected that with advancement in PCI (i.e. DES) that the BARI data would become irrelevant. However, CABG continued to show benefit despite the technological advancements of drug-eluting stents and PCI. Improvement in surgical technique as well as the use of arterial revascularization (i.e. internal mammary artery) helped maintain superior outcomes with CABG compared to PCI.

The study was limited by the fact that due to low numbers, the subgroup analysis (i.e. SYNTAX scores) was not appropriately powered for statistical significance. Further, the study was not blinded, and patients may have been treated differently on the basis of their surgical procedure. Also, there was variability of STYNAX scores between the study groups, but this circumstance was thought to reflect real world heterogeneity.

Bottom Line:
CABG was superior to PCI with DES in patients with DM and multivessel CAD in that it significantly reduced rates of death and MI despite a small increased risk of stroke.

Further Reading/References:
1. BARI Trial
2. BARI 2D Trial
3. ACCF/AHA 2011 Guideline for Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery
4. FREEDOM @ Wiki Journal Club
5. FREEDOM @ 2 Minute Medicine
5. FREEDOM @ Visualmed

Summary by Patrick Miller, MD.

Image Credit: Jerry Hecht, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons


“A Controlled Trial of Renal Denervation for Resistant Hypertension”

N Engl J Med. 2014 Apr 10;370(15):1393-401. [free full text]

Approximately 10% of patients with hypertension have resistant hypertension (SBP > 140 despite adherence to three maximally tolerated doses of antihypertensives, including a diuretic). Evidence suggests that the sympathetic nervous system plays a large role in such cases, so catheter-based radiofrequency ablation of the renal arteries (renal denervation therapy) was developed as a potential treatment for resistant HTN. The 2010 SYMPLICITY HTN-2 trial was a small (n = 106), non-blinded, randomized trial of renal denervation vs. continued care with oral antihypertensives that demonstrated a remarkable 30-mmHg greater decrease in SBP with renal denervation. Thus the 2014 SYMPLICITY HTN-3 trial was designed to evaluate the efficacy of renal denervation in a single-blinded trial with a sham-procedure control group.

The trial enrolled adults with resistant HTN with SBP ≥ 160 despite adherence to 3+ maximized antihypertensive drug classes, including a diuretic. (Pertinent exclusion criteria included secondary hypertension, renal artery stenosis > 50%, prior renal artery intervention.) Patients were randomized to either renal denervation with the Symplicity (Medtronic) radioablation catheter or to renal angiography only (sham procedure). The primary outcome was the mean change in office systolic BP from baseline at 6 months. (The examiner was blinded to intervention.) The secondary outcome was the change in mean 24-hour ambulatory SBP at 6 months. The primary safety endpoint was a composite of death, ESRD, embolic event with end-organ damage, renal artery or other vascular complication, hypertensive crisis within 30 days, or new renal artery stenosis of > 70%.

535 patients were randomized. On average, patients were receiving five antihypertensive medications. There was no significant difference in reduction of SBP between the two groups at 6 months. ∆SBP was -14.13 ± 23.93 mmHg in the denervation group vs. -11.74 ± 25.94 mmHg in the sham-procedure group for a between-group difference of -2.39 mmHg (95% CI -6.89 to 2.12, p = 0.26 with a superiority margin of 5 mmHg). The change in 24-hour ambulatory SBP at 6 months was -6.75 ± 15.11 mmHg in the denervation group vs. -4.79 ± 17.25 mmHg in the sham-procedure group for a between-group difference of -1.96 mmHg (95% CI -4.97 to 1.06, p = 0.98 with a superiority margin of 2 mmHg). There was no significant difference in the prevalence of the composite safety endpoint at 6 months with 4.0% of the denervation group and 5.8% of the sham-procedure group reaching the endpoint (percentage-point difference of -1.9, 95% CI -6.0 to 2.2).

In patients with resistant hypertension, renal denervation therapy provided no reduction in SBP at 6-month follow-up relative to a sham procedure.

This trial was an astounding failure for Medtronic and its Symplicity renal denervation radioablation catheter. The magnitude of the difference in results between the non-blinded, no-sham-procedure SYMPLICITY HTN-2 trial and this patient-blinded, sham-procedure-controlled trial is likely a product of 1) a marked placebo effect of procedural intervention, 2) Hawthorne effect in the non-blinded trial, and 3) regression toward the mean (patients were enrolled based on unusually high BP readings that over the course of the trial declined to reflect a lower true baseline).

Currently, there is no role for renal denervation therapy in the treatment of resistant HTN. However, despite the results of SYMPLICITY HTN-3, additional trials have since been conducted that assess the utility of renal denervation in patients with HTN not classified as resistant. SPYRAL HTN-ON MED demonstrated a benefit of renal denervation beyond that of a sham procedure (7.4 mmHg lower relative difference of SBP on 24hr ambulatory monitoring) in the continued presence of baseline antihypertensives. RADIANCE HTN-SOLO demonstrated a 6.3 mmHg greater reduction in daytime ambulatory SBP among ablated patients than that of sham-treatment patients notably after a 4-week discontinuation of up to two home antihypertensives. However, despite these two recent trials, the standard of care for the treatment of non-resistant HTN remains our affordable and safe default of multiple pharmacologic agents as well as lifestyle interventions.

Further Reading/References:
2. UpToDate, “Treatment of resistant hypertension,” heading “Renal nerve denervation”

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Week 43 – STOPAH

“Prednisolone or Pentoxifylline for Alcohol Hepatitis”

aka the Steroids or Pentoxifylline for Alcoholic Hepatitis (STOPAH) trial

N Engl J Med. 2015 Apr 23;372(17):1619-28. [free full text]

Severe alcoholic hepatitis is associated with short-term mortality as high as 30%. Treatment of alcoholic hepatitis with corticosteroids has been extensively studied and debated. Prior to this 2010 study, an analysis of the five largest studies of glucocorticoid treatment in alcoholic hepatitis concluded that there was a significant mortality benefit at 28 days among patients with severe disease. Similarly, the nonselective phosphodiesterase inhibitor pentoxifylline has been evaluated in alcoholic hepatitis. One of four RCTs showed a significant benefit, but two meta-analyses have not concluded that there is any benefit. The authors of the 2010 STOPAH trial sought to evaluate both therapies compared to placebos in a 2-by-2 factorial design.

The trial enrolled adults with a clinical diagnosis of alcoholic hepatitis, average alcohol consumption > 80 gm/day in men or 60 gm/day in women, total bilirubin > 4.7mg/dL, and a Maddrey discriminant function ≥ 32. Patients were randomized to one of the following four groups for 28 days of treatment.

      1. prednisolone-matched placebo daily + pentoxifylline-matched placebo TID
      2. prednisolone 40mg daily + pentoxifylline-matched placebo TID
      3. prednisolone-matched placebo daily + pentoxifylline 400mg TID
      4. prednisolone 40mg placebo daily + pentoxifylline 400mg TID

The primary outcome was 28-day mortality. The major secondary outcome was mortality or liver transplant at 90 days and at 1 year.

Regarding randomization of the 1103 patients, 276 were randomized to placebo-placebo, 277 to prednisolone-placebo, 276 to pentoxifylline-placebo, and 274 to prednisolone-pentoxifylline. The trial was stopped early due to “limitations on funding.” However, all enrolled patients completed at least 28 days of follow-up. 33 patients were unable to complete 90-day and 1-year follow-up due to termination of the trial.

At 28 days, 45 of 269 (17%) of placebo-placebo patients, 38 of 266 (14%) of prednisolone-placebo patients, 50 of 258 (19%) of pentoxifylline-placebo patients, and 35 of 260 (13%) of prednisolone-pentoxifylline patients had died. The odds ratio for 28-day mortality among patients treated with prednisolone was 0.72 (95% CI 0.52-1.01, p = 0.06), and the odds ratio for patients treated with pentoxifylline was 1.07 (95% CI 0.77-1.49, p = 0.69).

Similarly, neither treatment was found to influence 90-day or 1-year mortality or liver transplantation. (See Table 2.) Infection occurred in 13% of patients who received prednisolone versus 7% of patients who did not receive prednisolone.

In patients with severe alcoholic hepatitis, neither prednisolone nor pentoxifylline reduced morality risk at 28 days. Additionally, neither drug reduced the combined secondary endpoint of mortality or liver transplantation at 90 days or 1 year.

This was a well-designed, randomized, double-blind, double-placebo-controlled trial. A notable limitation was this trial’s reliance on the clinical diagnosis of alcohol hepatitis, rather than tissue diagnosis. This may have reduced the power of the trial with respect to detecting a treatment effect. Contemporary authors also noted that harm may have come to study patients due to a lack of tapering of prednisolone at the end of the 28 days of treatment.

A 2015 meta-analysis that included the STOPAH trial concluded that prednisolone treatment reduced 28-day mortality.

Despite the negative results of this specific trial, corticosteroid treatment has remained a mainstay of the treatment of severe alcoholic hepatitis.

The generally accepted practice, as summarized by UpToDate, is treatment with prednisolone 40mg PO daily for 28 days in patients with discriminant function ≥ 32. (Prednisolone is preferred over prednisone because prednisone requires conversion in the liver to its active form prednisolone, and such conversion can be impaired in liver dysfunction.) Therapy should be terminated early after 7 days if patients fail to show improvement (either by parameters such as bilirubin or discriminant function or by improvement in the Lille score).

Further Reading/References:
1. STOPAH @ Wiki Journal Club
2. STOPAH @ 2 Minute Medicine
3. UpToDate, “Management and prognosis of alcoholic hepatitis”
4. American College of Gastroenterology, “ACG Clinical Guideline: Alcoholic Liver Disease” (2018)
5. European Association for Study of the Liver (EASL), “EASL Clinical Practice Guidelines: Management of Alcoholic Liver Disease” (2012)

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Image Credit: University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Pathology, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Week 42 – RAVE

“Rituximab versus Cyclophosphamide for ANCA-Associated Vasculitis”

by the Rituximab in ANCA-Associated Vasculitis-Immune Tolerance Network (RAVE-ITN) Research Group

N Engl J Med. 2010 Jul 15;363(3):221-32. [free full text]

ANCA-associated vasculitides, such as granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA, formerly Wegener’s granulomatosis) and microscopic polyangiitis (MPA) are often rapidly progressive and highly morbid. Mortality in untreated generalized GPA can be as high as 90% at 2 years. Since the early 1980s, cyclophosphamide (CYC) with corticosteroids has been the best treatment option for induction of disease remission in GPA and MPA. Unfortunately, the immediate and delayed adverse effect profile of CYC can be burdensome. The role of B lymphocytes in the pathogenesis of these diseases has been increasingly appreciated over the past 20 years, and this association inspired uncontrolled treatment studies with the anti-CD20 agent rituximab that demonstrated promising preliminary results. Thus the RAVE trial was performed to compare rituximab to cyclophosphamide, the standard of care.

Population:      ANCA-positive patients with “severe” GPA or MPA and a Birmingham Vasculitis Activity Score for Wegener’s Granulomatosis (BVAS/WG) of 3+.

notable exclusion: patients intubated due to alveolar hemorrhage, patients with Cr > 4.0

Intervention:    rituximab 375mg/m2 IV weekly x4 + daily placebo-CYC + pulse-dose corticosteroids with oral maintenance and then taper

Comparison:   placebo-rituximab infusion weekly x4 + daily CYC + pulse-dose corticosteroids with oral maintenance and then taper


primary end point = clinical remission, defined as a BVAS/WG of 0 and successful completion of prednisone taper

primary outcome = noninferiority of rituximab relative to CYC in reaching 1º end point

authors specified non-inferiority margin as a -20 percentage point difference in remission rate

subgroup analyses (pre-specified) = type of ANCA-associated vasculitis, type of ANCA, “newly-diagnosed disease,” relapsing disease, alveolar hemorrhage, and severe renal disease

secondary outcomes = rate of disease flares, BVAS/WG of 0 during treatment with prednisone at a dose of less than 10mg/day, cumulative glucocorticoid dose, rates of adverse events, SF-36 scores

197 patients were randomized, and baseline characteristics were similar among the two groups (e.g. GPA vs. MPA, relapsed disease, etc.). 75% of patients had GPA. 64% of the patients in the rituximab group reached remission, while 53% of the control patients did. This 11 percentage point difference among the treatment groups was consistent with non-inferiority (p < 0.001). However, although more rituximab patients reached the primary endpoint, the difference between the two groups was statistically insignificant, and thus superiority of rituximab could not be established (95% CI -3.2 – 24.3 percentage points difference, p = 0.09). Subgroup analysis was notable only for superiority of rituximab in relapsed patients (67% remission rate vs. 42% in controls, p=0.01). Rates of adverse events and treatment discontinuation were similar among the two groups.

Rituximab + steroids is as effective as cyclophosphamide + steroids in inducing remission in severe GPA and MPA.

This study initiated a major paradigm shift in the standard of care of ANCA-associated vasculitis. The following year, the FDA approved rituximab + steroids as the first-ever treatment regimen approved for GPA and MPA.  It spurred numerous follow up trials, and to this day expert opinion is split over whether CYC or rituximab should be the initial immunosuppressive therapy in GPA/MPA with “organ-threatening or life-threatening disease.”

Non-inferiority trials are increasingly common, and careful attention needs to be paid to their methodology. Please read more in the following two articles: [http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra1510063] and [http://www.rds-sc.nihr.ac.uk/study-design/quantitative-studies/clinical-trials/non-inferiority-trials/]

Further Reading/References:
1. “Wegener granulomatosis: an analysis of 158 patients” (1992)
2. RAVE @ ClinicalTrials.gov
3. “Challenges in the Design and Interpretation of Noninferiority Trials,” NEJM (2017)
4. “Clinical Trials – Non-inferiority Trials”
5. RAVE @ Wiki Journal Club
6. RAVE @ 2 Minute Medicine

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Week 41 – HAS-BLED


“A Novel User-Friendly Score (HAS-BLED) To Assess 1-Year Risk of Major Bleeding in Patients with Atrial Fibrillation”

Chest. 2010 Nov;138(5):1093-100. [free full text]

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a well-known risk factor for ischemic stroke. Stroke risk is further increased by individual comorbidities, such as CHF, HTN, and DM, and can be stratified with scores, such as CHADS2 and CHA2DS2VASC. Patients with intermediate stroke risk are recommended to be treated with oral anticoagulation (OAC). However, stroke risk is often also closely related to bleeding risk, and the benefits of anticoagulation for stroke need to be weighed against the added risk of bleeding. At the time of this study, there were no validated and user-friendly bleeding risk-stratification schemes. This study aimed to develop a practical risk score to estimate the 1-year risk of major bleeding (as defined in the study) in a contemporary, real world cohort of patients with AF.

The study enrolled adults with an EKG or Holter-proven diagnosis of AF. (Patients with mitral valve stenosis or previous valvular surgery were excluded.) No experiment was performed in this retrospective cohort study.

In a derivation cohort, the authors retrospectively performed univariate analyses to identify a range of clinical features associated with major bleeding (p < 0.10). Based on systematic reviews, they added additional risk factors for major bleeding. Ultimately, what resulted was a list of comprehensive risk factors deemed HAS-BLED:

H – Hypertension (> 160 mmHg systolic)

A – Abnormal renal (HD, transplant, Cr > 2.26 mg/dL) and liver function (cirrhosis, bilirubin > 2x normal w/ AST/ALT/ALP > 3x normal) – 1 pt each for abnormal renal or liver function

S – Stroke

B – Bleeding (prior major bleed or predisposition to bleed)

L – Labile INRs (time in therapeutic range < 60%)

E – Elderly (age > 65)

D – Drugs (i.e. ASA, clopidogrel, NSAIDs) or alcohol use (> 8 units per week) concomitantly – 1 pt each for use of either

Each risk factor was equivalent to one point. The HAS-BLED score was then compared to the HEMORR2HAGES scheme, a prior tool for estimating bleeding risk.


      • incidence of major bleeding within 1 year, overall
      • bleeds per 100 patient-years, by HAS-BLED score
      • c-statistic for the HAS-BLED score in predicting the risk of bleeding


      • major bleeding = bleeding causing hospitalization, Hgb drop >2 g/L, or requiring blood transfusion, that was not a hemorrhagic stroke
      • hemorrhagic stroke = focal neurologic deficit of sudden onset, diagnosed by a neurologist, lasting >24h and caused by bleeding

3,456 patients with AF without mitral valve stenosis or valve surgery who completed their 1-year follow-up were analyzed retrospectively. 64.8% (2242) of these patients were on OAC (12.8% of whom on concurrent antiplatelet therapy), 24% (828) were on antiplatelet therapy alone, and 10.2% (352) received no antithrombotic therapy. 1.5% (53) of patients experienced a major bleed during the first year, with 17% (9) of these patients sustaining intracerebral hemorrhage.

HAS-BLED Score       Bleeds per 100-patient years
0                                       1.13
1                                       1.02
2                                       1.88
3                                       3.74
4                                       8.70
5                                      12.50
6*                                    0.0                   *(n = 2 patients at risk, neither bled)

Patients were given a HAS-BLED score and a HEMORR2HAGES score. C-statistics were then used to determine the predictive accuracy of each model overall as well as within patient subgroups (OAC alone, OAC + antiplatelet, antiplatelet alone, no antithrombotic therapy).

C statistics for HAS-BLED were as follows: for overall cohort, 0.72 (95%CI 0.65-0.79); for OAC alone, 0.69 (95%CI 0.59-0.80); for OAC + antiplatelet, 0.78 (95%CI 0.65-0.91); for antiplatelet alone, 0.91 (95%CI 0.83-1.00); and for those on no antithrombotic therapy, 0.85 (95%CI 0.00-1.00).

C statistics for HEMORR2HAGES were as follows: for overall cohort, 0.66 (95%CI 0.57-0.74); for OAC alone, 0.64 (95%CI 0.53-0.75); for OAC + antiplatelet, 0.83 (95%CI 0.74-0.91); for antiplatelet alone, 0.83 (95%CI 0.68-0.98); and for those without antithrombotic therapy, 0.81 (95%CI 0.00-1.00).

This study helped to establish a practical and user-friendly assessment of bleeding risk in AF. HAS-BLED is superior to its predecessor HEMORR2HAGES in that it has an easier-to-remember acronym and is quicker and simpler to perform. All of its risk factors are readily available from the clinical history or are routinely tested. Both stratification tools had a broadly similar c-statistics for the overall cohort – 0.72 for HAS-BLED versus 0.66 for HEMORR2HAGES respectively. However, HAS-BLED was particularly useful when looking at antiplatelet therapy alone or no antithrombotic therapy at all (0.91 and 0.85, respectively).

This study is useful because it provides evidence-based, easily-calculable, and actionable risk stratification in assessing bleeding risk in AF. In prior studies, such as ACTIVE-A (ASA + clopidogrel versus ASA alone for patients with AF deemed unsuitable for OAC), almost half of all patients (n= ~3500) were given a classification of “unsuitable for OAC,” which was based solely on physician clinical judgement alone without a predefined objective scoring. Now, physicians have an objective way to assess bleed risk rather than “gut feeling” or wanting to avoid iatrogenic insult.

The RE-LY trial used the HAS-BLED score to decide which patients with AF should get the standard dabigatran dose (150mg BID) versus a lower dose (110mg BID) for anticoagulation. This risk-stratified dosing resulted in a significant reduction in major bleeding compared with warfarin and maintained a similar reduction in stroke risk.

Furthermore, the HAS-BLED score could allow the physician to be more confident when deciding which patients may be appropriate for referral for a left atrial appendage occlusion device (e.g. Watchman).

The study had a limited number of major bleeds and a short follow-up period, and thus it is possible that other important risk factors for bleeding were not identified. Also, there were large numbers of patients lost to 1-year follow-up. These patients were likely to have had more comorbidities and may have transferred to nursing homes or even have died – which may have led to an underestimate of bleeding rates. Furthermore, the study had a modest number of very elderly patients (i.e. 75-84 and ≥ 85), who are likely to represent the greatest bleeding risk.

Bottom Line:
HAS-BLED provides an easy, practical tool to assess the individual bleeding risk of patients with AF. Oral anticoagulation should be considered for scores of 3 or less. When HAS-BLED scores are ≥ 4, it is reasonable to think about alternatives to oral anticoagulation.

Further Reading/References:
1. HAS-BLED @ 2 Minute Medicine
2. ACTIVE-A trial
3. RE-LY trial
4. RE-LY @ Wiki Journal Club
5. HAS-BLED Calculator
6. HEMORR2HAGES Calculator
7. CHADS2 Calculator
8. CHA2DS2VASC Calculator
9. Watchman (for Healthcare Professionals)
10. “Bleeding Risk Scores in Atrial Fibrillation: Helpful or Harmful?” Journal of the American Heart Association (2018)

Summary by Patrick Miller, MD

Image Credit: CardioNetworks, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Week 40 – Early Palliative Care in NSCLC

“Early Palliative Care for Patients with Metastatic Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer”

N Engl J Med. 2010 Aug 19;363(8):733-42. [free full text]

Ideally, palliative care improves a patient’s quality of life while facilitating appropriate usage of healthcare resources. However, initiating palliative care late in a disease course or in the inpatient setting may limit these beneficial effects. This 2010 study by Temel et al. sought to demonstrate benefits of early integrated palliative care on patient-reported quality-of-life (QoL) outcomes and resource utilization.

The study enrolled outpatients with metastatic NSCLC diagnosed < 8 weeks prior and ECOG performance status 0-2 and randomized them to either “early palliative care” (met with palliative MD/ARNP within 3 weeks of enrollment and at least monthly afterward) or to standard oncologic care. The primary outcome was the change in Trial Outcome Index (TOI) from baseline to 12 weeks.

TOI = sum of the lung cancer, physical well-being, and functional well-being subscales of the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy­–Lung (FACT-L) scale (scale range 0-84, higher score = better function)

Secondary outcomes included:

      • change in FACT-L score at 12 weeks (scale range 0-136)
      • change in lung cancer subscale of FACT-L at 12 weeks (scale range 0-28)
      • “aggressive care,” meaning one of the following: chemo within 14 days before death, lack of hospice care, or admission to hospice ≤ 3 days before death
      • documentation of resuscitation preference in outpatient records
      • prevalence of depression at 12 weeks per HADS and PHQ-9
      • median survival

151 patients were randomized. Palliative-care patients (n = 77) had a mean TOI increase of 2.3 points vs. a 2.3-point decrease in the standard-care group (n = 73) (p = 0.04). Median survival was 11.6 months in the palliative group vs. 8.9 months in the standard group (p = 0.02). (See Figure 3 on page 741 for the Kaplan-Meier curve.) Prevalence of depression at 12 weeks per PHQ-9 was 4% in palliative patients vs. 17% in standard patients (p = 0.04). Aggressive end-of-life care was received in 33% of palliative patients vs. 53% of standard patients (p = 0.05). Resuscitation preferences were documented in 53% of palliative patients vs. 28% of standard patients (p = 0.05). There was no significant change in FACT-L score or lung cancer subscale score at 12 weeks.

Early palliative care in patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer improved quality of life and mood, decreased aggressive end-of-life care, and improved survival. This is a landmark study, both for its quantification of the QoL benefits of palliative intervention and for its seemingly counterintuitive finding that early palliative care actually improved survival.

The authors hypothesized that the demonstrated QoL and mood improvements may have led to the increased survival, as prior studies had associated lower QoL and depressed mood with decreased survival. However, I find more compelling their hypotheses that “the integration of palliative care with standard oncologic care may facilitate the optimal and appropriate administration of anticancer therapy, especially during the final months of life” and earlier referral to a hospice program may result in “better management of symptoms, leading to stabilization of [the patient’s] condition and prolonged survival.”

In practice, this study and those that followed have further spurred the integration of palliative care into many standard outpatient oncology workflows, including features such as co-located palliative care teams and palliative-focused checklists/algorithms for primary oncology providers. Of note, in the inpatient setting, a recent meta-analysis concluded that early hospital palliative care consultation was associated with a $3200 reduction in direct hospital costs ($4250 in subgroup of patients with cancer).

Further Reading/References:
1. ClinicalTrials.gov
2. Wiki Journal Club
3. Profile of first author Dr. Temel
4. “Economics of Palliative Care for Hospitalized Adults with Serious Illness: A Meta-analysis” JAMA Internal Medicine (2018)
5. UpToDate, “Benefits, services, and models of subspecialty palliative care”

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Week 39 – Early TIPS in Cirrhosis with Variceal Bleeding

“Early Use of TIPS in Patients with Cirrhosis and Variceal Bleeding”

N Engl J Med. 2010 Jun 24;362(25):2370-9. [free full text]

Variceal bleeding is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in decompensated cirrhosis. The standard of care for an acute variceal bleed includes a combination of vasoactive drugs, prophylactic antibiotics, and endoscopic techniques (e.g. banding). Transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) can be used to treat refractory bleeding. This 2010 trial sought to determine the utility of early TIPS during the initial bleed in high-risk patients when compared to standard therapy.

The trial enrolled cirrhotic patients (Child-Pugh class B or C with score ≤ 13) with acute esophageal variceal bleeding. All patients received endoscopic band ligation (EBL) or endoscopic injection sclerotherapy (EIS) at the time of diagnostic endoscopy. All patients also received vasoactive drugs (terlipressin, somatostatin, or octreotide). Patients were randomized to either TIPS performed within 72 hours after diagnostic endoscopy or to “standard therapy” by 1) treatment with vasoactive drugs with transition to nonselective beta blocker when patients were free of bleeding followed by 2) addition of isosorbide mononitrate to maximum tolerated dose, and 3) a second session of EBL at 7-14 days after the initial session (repeated q10-14 days until variceal eradication was achieved). The primary outcome was a composite of failure to control acute bleeding or failure to prevent “clinically significant” variceal bleeding (requiring hospital admission or transfusion) at 1 year after enrollment. Selected secondary outcomes included 1-year mortality, development of hepatic encephalopathy (HE), ICU days, and hospital LOS.

359 patients were screened for inclusion, but ultimately only 63 were randomized. Baseline characteristics were similar among the two groups except that the early TIPS group had a higher rate of patients with previous hepatic encephalopathy. The primary composite endpoint of failure to control acute bleeding or rebleeding within 1 year occurred in 14 of 31 (45%) patients in the pharmacotherapy-EBL group and in only 1 of 32 (3%) of the early TIPS group (p = 0.001). The 1-year actuarial probability of remaining free of the primary outcome was 97% in the early TIPS group vs. 50% in the pharmacotherapy-EBL group (ARR 47 percentage points, 95% CI 25-69 percentage points, NNT 2.1). Regarding mortality, at one year, 12 of 31 (39%) patients in the pharmacotherapy-EBL group had died, while only 4 of 32 (13%) in the early TIPS group had died (p = 0.001, NNT = 4.0). There were no group differences in prevalence of HE at one year (28% in the early TIPS group vs. 40% in the pharmacotherapy-EBL group, p = 0.13). Additionally, there were no group differences in 1-year actuarial probability of new or worsening ascites. There were also no differences in length of ICU stay or hospitalization duration.

Early TIPS in acute esophageal variceal bleeding, when compared to standard pharmacotherapy and endoscopic band ligation, improved control of index bleeding, reduced recurrent variceal bleeding at 1 year, and reduced all-cause mortality. Prior studies had demonstrated that TIPS reduced the rebleeding rate but increased the rate of hepatic encephalopathy without improving survival. As such, TIPS had only been recommended as a rescue therapy. In contrast, this study presents compelling data that challenge these paradigms. The authors note that in “patients with Child-Pugh class C or in class B with active variceal bleeding, failure to initially control the bleeding or early rebleeding contributes to further deterioration in liver function, which in turn worsens the prognosis and may preclude the use of rescue TIPS.” Despite this, today, TIPS remains primarily a salvage therapy for use in cases of recurrent bleeding despite standard pharmacotherapy and EBL. There may be a subset of patients in whom early TIPS is the ideal strategy, but further trials will be required to identify this subset.

Further Reading/References:
1. Wiki Journal Club
2. 2 Minute Medicine
3. UpToDate, “Prevention of recurrent variceal hemorrhage in patients with cirrhosis”

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Week 38 – ACCORD

“Effects of Intensive Glucose Lowering in Type 2 Diabetes”

by the Action to Control Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetes (ACCORD) Study Group

N Engl J Med. 2008 Jun 12;358(24):2545-59. [free full text]

We all treat type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) on a daily basis, and we understand that untreated T2DM places patients at increased risk for adverse micro- and macrovascular outcomes. Prior to the 2008 ACCORD study, prospective epidemiological studies had noted a direct correlation between increased hemoglobin A1c values and increased risk of cardiovascular events. This correlation implied that treating T2DM to lower A1c levels would result in the reduction of cardiovascular risk. The ACCORD trial was the first large RCT to evaluate this specific hypothesis through comparison of events in two treatment groups – aggressive and less aggressive glucose management.

The trial enrolled patients with T2DM with A1c ≥ 7.5% and either age 40-79 with prior cardiovascular disease or age 55-79 with “anatomical evidence of significant atherosclerosis,” albuminuria, LVH, or ≥ 2 additional risk factors for cardiovascular disease (dyslipidemia, HTN, current smoker, or obesity). Notable exclusion criteria included “frequent or recent serious hypoglycemic events,” an unwillingness to inject insulin, BMI > 45, Cr > 1.5, or “other serious illness.” Patients were randomized to either intensive therapy targeting A1c to < 6.0% or to standard therapy targeting A1c 7.0-7.9%. The primary outcome was a composite first nonfatal MI or nonfatal stroke and death from cardiovascular causes. Reported secondary outcomes included all-cause mortality, severe hypoglycemia, heart failure, motor vehicle accidents in which the patient was the driver, fluid retention, and weight gain.

10,251 patients were randomized. The average age was 62, the average duration of T2DM was 10 years, and the average A1c was 8.1%. Both groups lowered their median A1c quickly, and median A1c values of the two groups separated rapidly within the first four months. (See Figure 1.) The intensive-therapy group had more exposure to antihyperglycemics of all classes. See Table 2.) Drugs were more frequently added, removed, or titrated in the intensive-therapy group (4.4 times per year versus 2.0 times per year in the standard-therapy group). At one year, the intensive-therapy group had a median A1c of 6.4% versus 7.5% in the standard-therapy group.

The primary outcome of MI/stroke/cardiovascular death occurred in 352 (6.9%) intensive-therapy patients versus 371 (7.2%) standard-therapy patients (HR 0.90, 95% CI 0.78-1.04, p = 0.16).  The trial was stopped early at a mean follow-up of 3.5 years due to increased all-cause mortality in the intensive-therapy group. 257 (5.0%) of the intensive-therapy patients died, but only 203 (4.0%) of the standard-therapy patients died (HR 1.22, 95% CI 1.01-1.46, p = 0.04). For every 95 patients treated with intensive therapy for 3.5 years, one extra patient died. Death from cardiovascular causes was also increased in the intensive-therapy group (HR 1.35, 95% CI 1.04-1.76, p = 0.02). Regarding additional secondary outcomes, the intensive-therapy group had higher rates of hypoglycemia, weight gain, and fluid retention than the standard-therapy group. (See Table 3.) There were no group differences in rates of heart failure or motor vehicle accidents in which the patient was the driver.

Intensive glucose control of T2DM increased all-cause mortality and did not alter the risk of cardiovascular events. This harm was previously unrecognized. The authors performed sensitivities analyses, including non-prespecified analyses, such as group differences in use of drugs like rosiglitazone, and they were unable to find an explanation for this increased mortality.

The target A1c level in T2DM remains a nuanced, patient-specific goal. Aggressive management may lead to improved microvascular outcomes, but it must be weighed against the risk of hypoglycemia. As summarized by UpToDate, while long-term data from the UKPDS suggests there may be a macrovascular benefit to aggressive glucose management early in the course of T2DM, the data from ACCORD suggest strongly that, in patients with longstanding T2DM and additional risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such management increases mortality.

The 2019 American Diabetes Association guidelines suggest that “a reasonable A1c goal for many nonpregnant adults is < 7%.” More stringent goals (< 6.5%) may be appropriate if they can be achieved without significant hypoglycemia or polypharmacy, and less stringent goals (< 8%) may be appropriate for patients “with a severe history of hypoglycemia, limited life expectancy, advanced microvascular or macrovascular complications…”

Of note, ACCORD also simultaneously cross-enrolled its patients in studies of intensive blood pressure management and adjunctive lipid management with fenofibrate. See this 2010 NIH press release and the links below for more information.

Further Reading/References:
1. ACCORD @ Wiki Journal Club
2. ACCORD @ 2 Minute Medicine
3. American Diabetes Association – “Glycemic Targets.” Diabetes Care (2019).
4. “Effect of intensive treatment of hyperglycaemia on microvascular outcomes in type 2 diabetes: an analysis of the ACCORD randomised trial.” Lancet (2010).

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Image Credit: Omstaal, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons