Week 33 – Varenicline vs. Bupropion and Placebo for Smoking Cessation

“Varenicline, an α2β2 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Partial Agonist, vs Sustained-Release Bupropion and Placebo for Smoking Cessation”

JAMA. 2006 Jul 5;296(1):56-63. [free full text]

Assisting our patients in smoking cessation is a fundamental aspect of outpatient internal medicine. At the time of this trial, the only approved pharmacotherapies for smoking cessation were nicotine replacement therapy and bupropion. As the α2β2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) was thought to be crucial to the reinforcing effects of nicotine, it was hypothesized that a partial agonist for this receptor could yield sufficient effect to satiate cravings and minimize withdrawal symptoms but also limit the reinforcing effects of exogenous nicotine. Thus Pfizer designed this large phase 3 trial to test the efficacy of its new α2β2 nAChR partial agonist varenicline (Chantix) against the only other non-nicotine pharmacotherapy at the time (bupropion) as well as placebo.

The trial enrolled adult smokers (10+ cigarettes per day) with fewer than three months of smoking abstinence in the past year (notable exclusion criteria included numerous psychiatric and substance use comorbidities). Patients were randomized to 12 weeks of treatment with either varenicline uptitrated by day 8 to 1mg BID, bupropion SR uptitrated by day 4 to 150mg BID, or placebo BID. Patients were also given a smoking cessation self-help booklet at the index visit and encouraged to set a quit date of day 8. Patients were followed at weekly clinic visits for the first 12 weeks (treatment duration) and then a mixture of clinic and phone visits for weeks 13-52. Non-smoking status during follow-up was determined by patient self-report combined with exhaled carbon monoxide < 10ppm. The primary endpoint was the 4-week continuous abstinence rate for study weeks 9-12 (as confirmed by exhaled CO level). Secondary endpoints included the continuous abstinence rate for weeks 9-24 and for weeks 9-52.

1025 patients were randomized. Compliance was similar among the three groups and the median duration of treatment was 84 days. Loss to follow-up was similar among the three groups. CO-confirmed continuous abstinence during weeks 9-12 was 44.0% among the varenicline group vs. 17.7% among the placebo group (OR 3.85, 95% CI 2.70–5.50, p < 0.001) vs. 29.5% among the bupropion group (OR vs. varenicline group 1.93, 95% CI 1.40–2.68, p < 0.001). (OR for bupropion vs. placebo was 2.00, 95% CI 1.38–2.89, p < 0.001.)  Continuous abstinence for weeks 9-24 was 29.5% among the varenicline group vs. 10.5% among the placebo group (p < 0.001) vs. 20.7% among the bupropion group (p = 0.007). Continuous abstinence rates weeks 9-52 were 21.9% among the varenicline group vs. 8.4% among placebo group (p < 0.001) vs. 16.1% among the bupropion group (p = 0.057). Subgroup analysis of the primary outcome by sex did not yield significant differences in drug efficacy by sex.

This study demonstrated that varenicline was superior to both placebo and bupropion in facilitating smoking cessation at up to 24 weeks. At greater than 24 weeks, varenicline remained superior to placebo but was similarly efficacious as bupropion. This was a well-designed and executed large, double-blind, placebo- and active-treatment-controlled multicenter US trial. The trial was completed in April 2005 and a new drug application for varenicline (Chantix) was submitted to the FDA in November 2005. Of note, an “identically designed” (per this study’s authors), manufacturer-sponsored phase 3 trial was performed in parallel and reported very similar results in the in the same July 2006 issue of JAMA (PMID: 16820547) as the above study by Gonzales et al. These robust, positive-outcome pre-approval trials of varenicline helped the drug rapidly obtain approval in May 2006.

Per expert opinion at UpToDate, varenicline remains a preferred first-line pharmacotherapy for smoking cessation. Bupropion is a suitable, though generally less efficacious, alternative, particularly when the patient has comorbid depression. Per UpToDate, the recent (2016) EAGLES trial demonstrated that “in contrast to earlier concerns, varenicline and bupropion have no higher risk of associated adverse psychiatric effects than [nicotine replacement therapy] in smokers with comorbid psychiatric disorders.”

Further Reading/References:
1. This trial @ ClinicalTrials.gov
2. Sister trial: “Efficacy of varenicline, an alpha4beta2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor partial agonist, vs placebo or sustained-release bupropion for smoking cessation: a randomized controlled trial.” JAMA. 2006 Jul 5;296(1):56-63.
3. Chantix FDA Approval Letter 5/10/2006
4. Rigotti NA. Pharmacotherapy for smoking cessation in adults. Post TW, ed. UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate Inc. [https://www.uptodate.com/contents/pharmacotherapy-for-smoking-cessation-in-adults] (Accessed on February 16, 2019).
5. “Neuropsychiatric safety and efficacy of varenicline, bupropion, and nicotine patch in smokers with and without psychiatric disorders (EAGLES): a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Lancet. 2016 Jun 18;387(10037):2507-20.
6. 2 Minute Medicine: “Varenicline and bupropion more effective than varenicline alone for tobacco abstinence”
7. 2 Minute Medicine: “Varenicline safe for smoking cessation in patients with stable major depressive disorder”

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

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


“Apixaban versus Warfarin in Patients with Atrial Fibrillation”

N Engl J Med. 2011 Sep 15;365(11):981-92. [free full text]

Prior to the development of the DOACs, warfarin was the standard of care for the reduction of risk of stroke in atrial fibrillation. Drawbacks of warfarin include a narrow therapeutic range, numerous drug and dietary interactions, the need for frequent monitoring, and elevated bleeding risk. Around 2010, the definitive RCTs for the oral direct thrombin inhibitor dabigatran (RE-LY) and the oral factor Xa inhibitor rivaroxaban (ROCKET AF) showed equivalence or superiority to warfarin. Shortly afterward, the ARISTOTLE trial demonstrated the superiority of the oral factor Xa inhibitor apixaban (Eliquis).

The trial enrolled patients with atrial fibrillation or flutter with at least one additional risk factor for stroke (age 75+, prior CVA/TIA, symptomatic CHF, or reduced LVEF). Notably, patients with Cr > 2.5 were excluded. Patients were randomized to treatment with either apixaban BID + placebo warfarin daily (reduced 2.5mg apixaban dose given in patients with 2 or more of the following: age 80+, weight < 60, Cr > 1.5) or to placebo apixaban BID + warfarin daily. The primary efficacy outcome was the incidence of stroke, and the primary safety outcome was “major bleeding” (clinically overt and accompanied by Hgb drop of ≥ 2, “occurring at a critical site,” or resulting in death). Secondary outcomes included all-cause mortality and a composite of major bleeding and “clinically-relevant non-major bleeding.”

9120 patients were assigned to the apixaban group, and 9081 were assigned to the warfarin group. Mean CHADS2 score was 2.1. Fewer patients in the apixaban group discontinued their assigned study drug. Median duration of follow-up was 1.8 years. The incidence of stroke was 1.27% per year in the apixaban group vs. 1.60% per year in the warfarin group (HR 0.79, 95% CI 0.66-0.95, p<0.001). This reduction was consistent across all major subgroups (see Figure 2). Notably, the rate of hemorrhagic stroke was 49% lower in the apixaban group, and the rate of ischemic stroke was 8% lower in the apixaban group. All-cause mortality was 3.52% per year in the apixaban group vs. 3.94% per year in the warfarin group (HR 0.89, 95% CI 0.80-0.999, p=0.047). The incidence of major bleeding was 2.13% per year in the apixaban group vs. 3.09% per year in the warfarin group (HR 0.69, 95% CI 0.60-0.80, p<0.001). The rate of intracranial hemorrhage was 0.33% per year in the apixaban group vs. 0.80% per year in the warfarin group (HR 0.42, 95% CI 0.30-0.58, p<0.001). The rate of any bleeding was 18.1% per year in the apixaban group vs. 25.8% in the warfarin group (p<0.001).

In patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation and at least one other risk factor for stroke, anticoagulation with apixaban significantly reduced the risk of stroke, major bleeding, and all-cause mortality relative to anticoagulation with warfarin. This was a large RCT that was designed and powered to demonstrate non-inferiority but in fact was able to demonstrate the superiority of apixaban. Along with ROCKET AF and RE-LY, the ARISTOTLE trial ushered in the modern era of DOACs in atrial fibrillation. Apixaban was approved by the FDA for the treatment of non-valvular atrial fibrillation in 2012. Patient prescription cost is no longer a major barrier to prescription. These three major DOACs are all preferred in the DC Medicaid formulary (see page 14). To date, no trial has compared the various DOACs directly.

Further Reading/References:
1. ARISTOTLE @ Wiki Journal Club
2. 2 Minute Medicine
3. “Oral anticoagulants for prevention of stroke in atrial fibrillation: systematic review, network meta-analysis, and cost-effectiveness analysis,” BMJ 2017

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Week 31 – 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. Obviously, 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.” Authors at UpToDate note that, given the totality of evidence to date, the benefit of early TIPS in preventing rebleeding “is offset by its failure to consistently improve survival and increasing morbidity due to the development of liver failure and encephalopathy.” 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 30 – Bicarbonate and Progression of CKD

“Bicarbonate Supplementation Slows Progression of CKD and Improves Nutritional Status”

J Am Soc Nephrol. 2009 Sep;20(9):2075-84. [free full text]

Metabolic acidosis is a common complication of advanced CKD. Some animal models of CKD have suggested that worsening metabolic acidosis is associated with worsening proteinuria, tubulointerstitial fibrosis, and acceleration of decline of renal function. Short-term human studies have demonstrated that bicarbonate administration reduces protein catabolism and that metabolic acidosis is an independent risk factor for acceleration of decline of renal function. However, until this 2009 study by de Brito-Ashurst et al., there were no long-term studies demonstrating the beneficial effects of oral bicarbonate administration on CKD progression and nutritional status.

The study enrolled CKD patients with CrCl 15-30ml/min and plasma bicarbonate 16-20 mEq/L and randomized them to treatment with either sodium bicarbonate 600mg PO TID (with protocolized uptitration to achieve plasma HCO3  ≥ 23 mEq/L) for 2 years, or to routine care. The primary outcomes were: 1) the decline in CrCl at 2 years, 2) “rapid progression of renal failure” (defined as decline of CrCl > 3 ml/min per year), and 3) development of ESRD requiring dialysis. Secondary outcomes included 1) change in dietary protein intake, 2) change in normalized protein nitrogen appearance (nPNA), 3) change in serum albumin, and 4) change in mid-arm muscle circumference.

134 patients were randomized, and baseline characteristics were similar among the two groups. Serum bicarbonate levels increased significantly in the treatment arm. (See Figure 2.) At two years, CrCl decline was 1.88 ml/min in the treatment group vs. 5.93 ml/min in the control group (p < 0.01). Rapid progression of renal failure was noted in 9% of intervention group vs. 45% of the control group (RR 0.15, 95% CI 0.06–0.40, p < 0.0001, NNT = 2.8), and ESRD developed in 6.5% of the intervention group vs. 33% of the control group (RR 0.13, 95% CI 0.04–0.40, p < 0.001; NNT = 3.8). Regarding nutritional status, dietary protein intake increased in the treatment group relative to the control group (p < 0.007). Normalized protein nitrogen appearance decreased in the treatment group and increased in the control group (p < 0.002). Serum albumin increased in the treatment group but was unchanged in the control group, and mean mid-arm muscle circumference increased by 1.5 cm in the intervention group vs. no change in the control group (p < 0.03).

In conclusion, oral bicarbonate supplementation in CKD patients with metabolic acidosis reduces the rate of CrCl decline and progression to ESRD and improves nutritional status. Primarily on the basis of this study, the KDIGO 2012 guidelines for the management of CKD recommend oral bicarbonate supplementation to maintain serum bicarbonate within the normal range (23-29 mEq/L). This is a remarkably cheap and effective intervention. Importantly, the rates of adverse events, particularly worsening hypertension and increasing edema, were unchanged among the two groups. Of note, sodium bicarbonate induces much less volume expansion than a comparable sodium load of sodium chloride.

In their discussion, the authors suggest that their results support the hypothesis of Nath et al. (1985) that “compensatory changes [in the setting of metabolic acidosis] such as increased ammonia production and the resultant complement cascade activation in remnant tubules in the declining renal mass [are] injurious to the tubulointerstitium.” The hypercatabolic state of advanced CKD appears to be mitigated by bicarbonate supplementation. The authors note that “an optimum nutritional status has positive implications on the clinical outcomes of dialysis patients, whereas [protein-energy wasting] is associated with increased morbidity and mortality.”

Limitations to this trial include its open-label, no-placebo design. Also, the applicable population is limited by study exclusion criteria of morbid obesity, overt CHF, and uncontrolled HTN.

Further Reading:
1. Nath et al. “Pathophysiology of chronic tubulo-interstitial disease in rats: Interactions of dietary acid load, ammonia, and complement component-C3” (1985)
2. KDIGO 2012 Clinical Practice Guideline for the Evaluation and Management of Chronic Kidney Disease (see page 89)
3. UpToDate, “Pathogenesis, consequences, and treatment of metabolic acidosis in chronic kidney disease”

Week 28 – Symptom-Triggered Benzodiazepines in Alcohol Withdrawal

“Symptom-Triggered vs Fixed-Schedule Doses of Benzodiazepine for Alcohol Withdrawal”

Arch Intern Med. 2002 May 27;162(10):1117-21. [free full text]

Treatment of alcohol withdrawal with benzodiazepines has been the standard of care for decades. However, in the 1990s, benzodiazepine therapy for alcohol withdrawal was generally given via fixed doses. In 1994, a double-blind RCT by Saitz et al. demonstrated that symptom-triggered therapy based on responses to the CIWA-Ar scale reduced treatment duration and the amount of benzodiazepine used relative to a fixed-schedule regimen. This trial had little immediate impact in the treatment of alcohol withdrawal. The authors of the 2002 double-blind RCT sought to confirm the findings from 1994 in a larger population that did not exclude patients with a history of seizures or severe alcohol withdrawal.

The trial enrolled consecutive patients admitted to the inpatient alcohol treatment units at two European universities (excluding those with “major cognitive, psychiatric, or medical comorbidity”) and randomized them to treatment with either scheduled placebo (30mg q6hrs x4, followed by 15mg q6hrs x8) with additional PRN oxazepam 15mg for CIWA score 8-15 and 30mg for CIWA score > 15 or to treatment with scheduled oxazepam (30mg q6hrs x4, followed by 15mg q6hrs x8) with additional PRN oxazepam 15mg for CIWA score 8-15 and 30mg for CIWA score > 15.

The primary outcomes were cumulative oxazepam dose at 72 hours and duration of treatment with oxazepam. Subgroup analysis included the exclusion of symptomatic patients who did not require any oxazepam. Secondary outcomes included incidence of seizures, hallucinations, and delirium tremens at 72 hours.

117 patients completed the trial. 56 had been randomized to the symptom-triggered group, and 61 had been randomized to the fixed-schedule group. The groups were similar in all baseline characteristics except that the fixed-schedule group had on average a 5-hour longer interval since last drink prior to admission. While only 39% of the symptom-triggered group actually received oxazepam, 100% of the fixed-schedule group did (p < 0.001). Patients in the symptom-triggered group received a mean cumulative dose of 37.5mg versus 231.4mg in the fixed-schedule group (p < 0.001). The mean duration of oxazepam treatment was 20.0 hours in the symptom-triggered group versus 62.7 hours in the fixed-schedule group. The group difference in total oxazepam dose persisted even when patients who did not receive any oxazepam were excluded. Among patients who did receive oxazepam, patients in the symptom-triggered group received 95.4 ± 107.7mg versus 231.4 ± 29.4mg in the fixed-dose group (p < 0.001). Only one patient in the symptom-triggered group sustained a seizure. There were no seizures, hallucinations, or episodes of delirium tremens in any of the other 116 patients. The two treatment groups had similar quality-of-life and symptom scores aside from slightly higher physical functioning in the symptom-triggered group (p < 0.01). See Table 2.

Symptom-triggered administration of benzodiazepines in alcohol withdrawal led to a six-fold reduction in cumulative benzodiazepine use and a much shorter duration of pharmacotherapy than fixed-schedule administration. This more restrictive and responsive strategy did not increase the risk of major adverse outcomes such as seizure or DTs and also did not result in increased patient discomfort.

Overall, this study confirmed the findings of the landmark study by Saitz et al. from eight years prior. Additionally, this trial was larger and did not exclude patients with a prior history of withdrawal seizures or severe withdrawal. The fact that both studies took place in inpatient specialty psychiatry units limits their generalizability to our inpatient general medicine populations.

Why the initial 1994 study did not gain clinical traction remains unclear. Both studies have been well-cited over the ensuing decades, and the paradigm has shifted firmly toward symptom-triggered benzodiazepine regimens using the CIWA scale. While a 2010 Cochrane review cites only the 1994 study, Wiki Journal Club and 2 Minute Medicine have entries on this 2002 study but not on the equally impressive 1994 study.

Further Reading/References:
1. “Individualized treatment for alcohol withdrawal. A randomized double-blind controlled trial.” JAMA. 1994.
2. Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment of Alcohol Scale, Revised (CIWA-Ar)
3. Wiki Journal Club
4. 2 Minute Medicine
5. “Benzodiazepines for alcohol withdrawal.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

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

Week 27 – Mortality in Patients on Dialysis and Transplant Recipients

“Comparison of Mortality in All Patients on Dialysis, Patients on Dialysis Awaiting Transplantation, and Recipients of a First Cadaveric Transplant”

N Engl J Med. 1999 Dec 2;341(23):1725-30. [free full text]

Renal transplant is the treatment of choice in patients with ESRD. Since the advent of renal transplant, it has been known that transplant improves both quality of life and survival relative to dialysis. However, these findings were derived from retrospective data and reflected inherent selection bias (patients who received transplants were healthier, younger, and of higher socioeconomic status than patients who remained on dialysis). While some smaller studies (i.e. single center or statewide database) published in the early to mid 1990s attempted to account for this selection bias by comparing outcomes among patients who received a transplant versus patients who were listed for transplant but had not yet received one, this 1999 study by Wolfe et al. was a notable step forward in that it used the large, nationwide US Renal Data System dataset and a robust multivariate hazards model to control for baseline covariates. To this day, Wolfe et al. remains a defining testament to the sustained, life-prolonging benefit of renal transplantation itself.

Using the comprehensive US Renal Data System database, the authors evaluated patients who began treatment for ESRD between 1991 and 1996. Notable exclusion criteria were age ≥ 70 and transplant prior to initiating dialysis. Of the 228,552 patients evaluated, 46,164 were placed on the transplant waitlist, and 23,275 received a transplant by the end of the study period (12/31/1997). The primary outcome was survival reported in unadjusted death rates per 100 patient-years, standardized mortality ratios (adjusted for age, race, sex, and diabetes as the cause of ESRD), and adjusted relative risk of death in transplant patients relative to waitlisted patients. Subgroup analyses were performed.

Regarding baseline characteristics, listed or transplanted patients were younger, more likely to be white or Asian, and less likely to have diabetes as the cause of their ESRD (see Table 1). Unadjusted death rates per 100 patient-years at risk: dialysis 16.1, waitlist 6.3, and transplant recipients 3.8 (no p value given, see Table 2). The standardized mortality ratio (adjusted for age, race, sex, and diabetes as the cause of ESRD) was 49% lower (RR 0.51, 95% CI 0.49–0.53, p<0.001) among patients on the waitlist and 69% lower among transplant recipients (p value not reported). The lower standardized mortality ratio of waitlisted patients relative to dialysis patients was sustained in all subgroup analyses (see Figure 1). The relative risk of death (adjusted for age, sex, race, cause of ESRD, year placed on waitlist, and time from first treatment of ESRD to placement on waitlist) is visually depicted in Figure 2. Importantly, relative to waitlisted patients, transplant recipients had a 2.8x higher risk of death during the first two weeks post-transplant. Thereafter, risk declined until the likelihood of survival equalized at 106 days post-transplant. Long term (3-4 years of follow-up in this study), mortality risk was 68% lower among transplanted patients than among waitlisted patients (RR 0.32, 95% CI 0.30–0.35, p< 0.001). The magnitude of this survival benefit varied by subgroup but was strong and statistically significant in all subgroups (ranging from 3 to 17 additional projected years of life, see Table 3).

Retrospective analysis of this nationwide ESRD database has clearly demonstrated the marked mortality benefit of renal transplantation over waitlisted status. This finding is present to varying degrees in all subgroups and leads to a projected additional 3 to 17 years of lifespan post-transplant. (There is an expected, mild increase in mortality risk immediately following transplantation. This increase reflects operative risk and immediate complications but is present for only 2 weeks post-transplantation.) As expected and as previously described in other datasets, this study also demonstrated that substantially healthier ESRD patients are selected for transplantation listing in the US in comparison to patients who remain on dialysis not on the waitlist.

Relative strengths of this study include its comprehensive national dataset and intention-to-treat analysis. Its multivariate analyses robustly controlled for factors, such as time on the waitlist, that may have influenced mortality. However, this study is limited in that its retrospective comparison of listed to transplanted does not entirely eliminate selection bias. (For example, listed patients may have developed illnesses that ultimately prevented transplant and lead to death.) Additionally, the mortality benefits demonstrated in this study from the first half of the 1990s may not reflect those of current practice, given that prevention and treatment of ASCVD (a primary driver of mortality in ESRD) has improved markedly in the ensuing decades and may favor one group disproportionately.

As suggested by the authors at UpToDate, improved survival post-transplant may be due to the following factors: increased clearance of uremic toxins, reduction in inflammation and/or oxidative stress, reduced microvascular disease in diabetes mellitus, and improvement of LVH.

As a final note: in this modern era, it is surprising to see both a retrospective cohort study published in NEJM as well as the lack of preregistration of its analysis protocol prior to the study being conducted. Preregistration, even of interventional trials, did not become routine until the years following the announcement of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) trial registration policy in 2004 (Zarin et al.). Although, even today, retrospective cohort studies are not routinely preregistered, high profile journals increasingly require it because it helps differentiate between confirmatory versus exploratory research and reduce the appearance of post-hoc data dredging (i.e. p-hacking). Please see the Center for Open Science – Preregistration for further information. Here is another helpful discussion in PowerPoint form by Deborah A. Zarin, MD, Director of ClinicalTrials.gov.

Further Reading/References:
1. UpToDate, “Patient Survival After Renal Transplantation”
2. Zarin et al. “Update on Trial Registration 11 Years after the ICMJE Policy Was Established.” NEJM 2017

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Image Credit: Anna Frodesiak, CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Week 26 – HACA

“Mild Therapeutic Hypothermia to Improve the Neurologic Outcome After Cardiac Arrest”

by the Hypothermia After Cardiac Arrest Study Group

N Engl J Med. 2002 Feb 21;346(8):549-56. [free full text]

Neurologic injury after cardiac arrest is a significant source of morbidity and mortality. It is hypothesized that brain reperfusion injury (via the generation of free radicals and other inflammatory mediators) following ischemic time is the primary pathophysiologic basis. Animal models and limited human studies have demonstrated that patients treated with mild hypothermia following cardiac arrest have improved neurologic outcome. The 2002 HACA study sought to evaluate prospectively the utility of therapeutic hypothermia in reducing neurologic sequelae and mortality post-arrest.

Population: European patients who achieve return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC) after presenting to the ED in cardiac arrest

inclusion criteria: witnessed arrest, ventricular fibrillation or non-perfusing ventricular tachycardia as initial rhythm, estimated interval 5 to 15 min from collapse to first resuscitation attempt, no more than 60 min from collapse to ROSC, age 18-75

pertinent exclusion: pt already < 30ºC on admission, comatose state prior to arrest d/t CNS drugs, response to commands following ROSC

Intervention: Cooling to target temperature 32-34ºC with maintenance for 24 hrs followed by passive rewarming. Pts received pancuronium for neuromuscular blockade to prevent shivering.

Comparison: Standard intensive care

Primary: a “favorable neurologic outcome” at 6 months defined as Pittsburgh cerebral-performance scale category 1 (good recovery) or 2 (moderate disability). (Of note, the examiner was blinded to treatment group allocation.)


  • all-cause mortality at 6 months
  • specific complications within the first 7 days: bleeding “of any severity,” pneumonia, sepsis, pancreatitis, renal failure, pulmonary edema, seizures, arrhythmias, and pressure sores

3551 consecutive patients were assessed for enrollment and ultimately 275 met inclusion criteria and were randomized. The normothermia group had more baseline DM and CAD and were more likely to have received BLS from a bystander prior to the ED.

Regarding neurologic outcome at 6 months, 75 of 136 (55%) of the hypothermia group had a favorable neurologic outcome, versus 54/137 (39%) in the normothermia group (RR 1.40, 95% CI 1.08-1.81, p = 0.009; NNT = 6). After adjusting for all baseline characteristics, the RR increased slightly to 1.47 (95% CI 1.09-1.82).

Regarding death at 6 months, 41% of the hypothermia group had died, versus 55% of the normothermia group (RR 0.74, 95% CI 0.58-0.95, p = 0.02; NNT = 7). After adjusting for all baseline characteristics, RR = 0.62 (95% CI 0.36-0.95). There was no difference among the two groups in the rate of any complication or in the total number of complications during the first 7 days.

In ED patients with Vfib or pulseless VT arrest who did not have meaningful response to commands after ROSC, immediate therapeutic hypothermia reduced the rate of neurologic sequelae and mortality at 6 months.

Corresponding practice point from Dr. Sonti and Dr. Vinayak and their Georgetown Critical Care Top 40: “If after ROSC your patient remains unresponsive and does not have refractory hypoxemia/hypotension/coagulopathy, you should initiate therapeutic hypothermia even if the arrest was PEA. The benefit seen was substantial and any proposed biologic mechanism would seemingly apply to all causes of cardiac arrest. The investigators used pancuronium to prevent shivering; [at MGUH] there is a ‘shivering’ protocol in place and if refractory, paralytics can be used.”

This trial, as well as a concurrent publication by Benard et al. ushered in a new paradigm of therapeutic hypothermia or “targeted temperature management” (TTM) following cardiac arrest. Numerous trials in related populations and with modified interventions (e.g. target temperature 36º C) were performed over the following decade, and ultimately led to the current standard of practice.

Per UpToDate, the collective trial data suggest that “active control of the post-cardiac arrest patient’s core temperature, with a target between 32 and 36ºC, followed by active avoidance of fever, is the optimal strategy to promote patient survival.” TTM should be undertaken in all patients who do not follow commands or have purposeful movements following ROSC. Expert opinion at UpToDate recommends maintaining temperature control for at least 48 hours.

Further Reading/References:
1. HACA @ 2 Minute Medicine
2. HACA @ Wiki Journal Club
3. HACA @ Visualmed
4. Georgetown Critical Care Top 40, page 23 (Jan. 2016)
5. PulmCCM.org, “Hypothermia did not help after out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, in largest study yet”
6. Cochrane Review, “Hypothermia for neuroprotection in adults after cardiopulmonary resuscitation”
7. The NNT, “Mild Therapeutic Hypothermia for Neuroprotection Following CPR”
8. UpToDate, “Post-cardiac arrest management in adults”

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Week 24 – The Oregon Experiment

“The Oregon Experiment – Effects of Medicaid on Clinical Outcomes”

N Engl J Med. 2013 May 2;368(18):1713-22. [free full text]

Access to health insurance is not synonymous with access to healthcare. However, it has been generally assumed that increased access to insurance should improve healthcare outcomes among the newly insured. In 2008, Oregon expanded its Medicaid program by approximately 30,000 patients. These policies were lotteried among approximately 90,000 applicants. The authors of the Oregon Health Study Group sought to study the impact of this “randomized” intervention, and the results were hotly anticipated given the impending Medicaid expansion of the 2010 PPACA.

Population: Portland, Oregon residents who applied for the 2008 Medicaid expansion

Not all applicants were actually eligible.

Eligibility criteria: age 19-64, US citizen, Oregon resident, ineligible for other public insurance, uninsured for the previous 6 months, income below 100% of the federal poverty level, and assets < $2000.

Intervention: winning the Medicaid-expansion lottery

Comparison: The statistical analyses of clinical outcomes in this study do not actually compare winners to non-winners. Instead, they compare non-winners to winners who ultimately received Medicaid coverage. Winning the lottery increased the chance of being enrolled in Medicaid by about 25 percentage points. Given the assumption that “the lottery affected outcomes only by changing Medicaid enrollment, the effect of being enrolled in Medicaid was simply about 4 times…as high as the effect of being able to apply for Medicaid.” This allowed the authors to conclude causal inferences regarding the benefits of new Medicaid coverage.

Values or point prevalence of the following at approximately 2 years post-lottery:
1. blood pressure, diagnosis of hypertension
2. cholesterol levels, diagnosis of hyperlipidemia
3. HgbA1c, diagnosis of diabetes
4. Framingham risk score for cardiovascular events
5. positive depression screen, depression dx after lottery, antidepressant use
6. health-related quality of life measures
7. measures of financial hardship (e.g. catastrophic expenditures)
8. measures of healthcare utilization (e.g. estimated total annual expenditure)

These outcomes were assessed via in-person interviews, assessment of blood pressure, and a blood draw for biomarkers.

The study population included 10,405 lottery winners and 10,340 non-winners. Interviews were performed ~25 months after the lottery. While there were no significant differences in baseline characteristics among winners and non-winners, “the subgroup of lottery winners who ultimately enrolled in Medicaid was not comparable to the overall group of persons who did not win the lottery” (no demographic or other data provided).

At approximately 2 years following the lottery, there were no differences in blood pressure or prevalence of diagnosed hypertension between the lottery non-winners and those who enrolled in Medicaid. There were also no differences between the groups in cholesterol values, prevalence of diagnosis of hypercholesterolemia after the lottery, or use of medications for high cholesterol. While more Medicaid enrollees were diagnosed with diabetes after the lottery (absolute increase of 3.8 percentage points, 95% CI 1.93-5.73, p<0.001; prevalence 1.1% in non-winners) and were more likely to be using medications for diabetes than the non-winners (absolute increase of 5.43 percentage points, 95% CI 1.39-9.48, p=0.008), there was no statistically significant difference in HgbA1c values among the two groups. Medicaid coverage did not significantly alter 10-year Framingham cardiovascular event risk. At follow-up, fewer Medicaid-enrolled patients screened positive for depression (decrease of 9.15 percentage points, 95% CI -16.70 to -1.60,  p=0.02), while more had formally been diagnosed with depression during the interval since the lottery (absolute increase of 3.81 percentage points, 95% CI 0.15-7.46, p=0.04). There was no significant difference in prevalence of antidepressant use.

Medicaid-enrolled patients were more likely to report that their health was the same or better since 1 year prior (increase of 7.84 percentage points, 95% CI 1.45-14.23, p=0.02). There were no significant differences in scores for quality of life related to physical health or in self-reported levels of pain or global happiness. As seen in Table 4, Medicaid enrollment was associated with decreased out-of-pocket spending (15% had a decrease, average decrease $215), decreased prevalence of medical debt, and a decreased prevalence of catastrophic expenditures (absolute decrease of 4.48 percentage points, 95% CI -8.26 to 0.69, p=0.02).

Medicaid-enrolled patients were prescribed more drugs and had more office visits but no change in number of ED visits or hospital admissions. Medicaid coverage was estimated to increase total annual medical spending by $1,172 per person (an approximately 35% increase). Of note, patients enrolled in Medicaid were more likely to have received a pap smear or mammogram during the study period.

This study was the first major study to “randomize” health insurance coverage and study the health outcome effects of gaining insurance.

Overall, this study demonstrated that obtaining Medicaid coverage “increased overall health care utilization, improved self-reported health, and reduced financial strain.” However, its effects on patient-level health outcomes were much more muted. Medicaid coverage did not impact the prevalence or severity of hypertension or hyperlipidemia. Medicaid coverage appeared to aid in the detection of diabetes mellitus and use of antihyperglycemics but did not affect average A1c. Accordingly, there was no significant difference in Framingham risk score among the two groups.

The glaring limitation of this study was that its statistical analyses compared two groups with unequal baseline characteristics, despite the purported “randomization” of the lottery. Effectively, by comparing Medicaid enrollees (and not all lottery winners) to the lottery non-winners, the authors failed to perform an intention-to-treat analysis. This design engendered significant confounding, and it is remarkable that the authors did not even attempt to report baseline characteristics among the final two groups, let alone control for any such differences in their final analyses. Furthermore, the fact that not all reported analyses were pre-specified raises suspicion of post hoc data dredging for statistically significant results (“p-hacking”). Overall, power was limited in this study due to the low prevalence of the conditions studied.

Contemporary analysis of this study, both within medicine and within the political sphere, was widely divergent. Medicaid-expansion proponents noted that new access to Medicaid provided a critical financial buffer from potentially catastrophic medical expenditures and allowed increased access to care (as measured by clinic visits, medication use, etc.), while detractors noted that, despite this costly program expansion and fine-toothed analysis, little hard-outcome benefit was realized during the (admittedly limited) follow-up at two years.

Access to insurance is only the starting point in improving the health of the poor. The authors note that “the effects of Medicaid coverage may be limited by the multiple sources of slippage…[including] access to care, diagnosis of underlying conditions, prescription of appropriate medications, compliance with recommendations, and effectiveness of treatment in improving health.”

Further Reading/References:
1. Baicker et al. (2013), “The Impact of Medicaid on Labor Force Activity and Program Participation: Evidence from the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment”
2. Taubman et al. (2014), “Medicaid Increases Emergency-Department Use: Evidence from Oregon’s Health Insurance Experiment”
3. The Washington Post, “Here’s what the Oregon Medicaid study really said” (2013)
4. Michael Cannon, “Oregon Study Throws a Stop Sign in Front of ObamaCare’s Medicaid Expansion”
5. HealthAffairs Policy Brief, “The Oregon Health Insurance Experiment”
6. The Oregon Health Insurance Experiment

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Image Credit: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Week 22 – RALES

“The effect of spironolactone on morbidity and mortality in patients with severe heart failure”

by the Randomized Aldactone Evaluation Study Investigators

N Engl J Med. 1999 Sep 2;341(10):709-17. [free full text]

Inhibition of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS) is a tenet of the treatment of heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (see post from Week 6 – SOLVD). However, physiologic evidence exists that suggests ACEis only partially inhibit aldosterone production. It had been hypothesized that aldosterone receptor blockade (e.g. with spironolactone) in conjunction with ACE inhibition could synergistically improve RAAS blockade; however, there was substantial clinician concern about the risk of hyperkalemia. In 1996, the RALES investigators demonstrated that the addition of spironolactone 12.5 or 25mg daily in combination with ACEi resulted in laboratory evidence of increased RAAS inhibition at 12 weeks with an acceptable increased risk of hyperkalemia. The 1999 RALES study was thus designed to evaluate prospectively the mortality benefit and safety of the addition of relatively low-dose aldosterone treatment to the standard HFrEF treatment regimen.

The study enrolled patients with severe HFrEF (LVEF ≤ 35% and NYHA class IV symptoms within the past 6 months and class III or IV symptoms at enrollment) currently being treated with an ACEi (if tolerated) and a loop diuretic. Patients were randomized to the addition of spironolactone 25mg PO daily or placebo. (The dose could be increased at 8 weeks to 50mg PO daily if the patient showed signs or symptoms of progression of CHF without evidence of hyperkalemia.) The primary outcome was all-cause mortality. Secondary outcomes included death from cardiac causes, hospitalization for cardiac causes, change in NYHA functional class, and incidence of hyperkalemia.

1663 patients were randomized. The trial was stopped early (mean follow-up of 24 months) due to the marked improvement in mortality among the spironolactone group. Among the placebo group, 386 (46%) patients died, whereas only 284 (35%) patients among the spironolactone group died (RR 0.70, 95% CI 0.60 to 0.82, p < 0.001; NNT = 8.8). See the dramatic Kaplan-Meier curve in Figure 1. Relative to placebo, spironolactone treatment reduced deaths secondary to cardiac causes by 31% and hospitalizations for cardiac causes by 30% (p < 0.001 for both). In placebo patients, NYHA class improved in 33% of cases, was unchanged in 18%, and worsened in 48% of patients; in spironolactone patients, the NYHA class improved in 41%, was unchanged in 21%, and worsened in 38% of patients (p < 0.001 for group difference by Wilcoxon test). “Serious hyperkalemia” occurred in 10 (1%) of placebo patients and 14 (2%) of spironolactone patients (p = 0.42). Treatment discontinuation rates were similar among the two groups.

Among patients with severe HFrEF, the addition of spironolactone improved mortality, reduced hospitalizations for cardiac causes, and improved symptoms without conferring an increased risk of serious hyperkalemia. The authors hypothesized that spironolactone “can prevent progressive heart failure by averting sodium retention and myocardial fibrosis” and can “prevent sudden death from cardiac causes by averting potassium loss and by increasing the myocardial uptake of norepinephrine.” Myocardial fibrosis is thought to be reduced via blocking the role aldosterone plays in collagen formation. Overall, this was a well-designed double-blind RCT that built upon the safety data of the safe-dose-finding 1996 RALES trial and ushered in the era of routine use of aldosterone receptor blockade in severe HFrEF. In 2003, the EPHESUS trial trial demonstrated a mortality benefit of aldosterone antagonism (with eplerenone) among patients with LV dysfunction following acute MI, and in 2011, the EMPHASIS-HF trial demonstrated a reduction in CV death or HF hospitalization with eplerenone use among patients with EF ≤ 35% and NYHA class II symptoms (and notably among patients with a much higher prevalence of beta-blocker use than those of the mid-1990s RALES cohort). The 2014 TOPCAT trial demonstrated that, among patients with HFpEF, spironolactone does not reduce a composite endpoint of CV mortality, aborted cardiac arrest, or HF hospitalizations.

The 2013 ACCF/AHA Guideline for the Management of Heart Failure recommends the use of aldosterone receptor antagonists in patients with NYHA class II-IV symptoms with LVEF ≤ 35% and following an acute MI in patients with LVEF ≤ 40% with symptomatic HF or with a history of diabetes mellitus. Contraindications include Cr ≥ 2.5 or K ≥ 5.0.

Further Reading/References:
1. “Effectiveness of spironolactone added to an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor and a loop diuretic for severe chronic congestive heart failure (the Randomized Aldactone Evaluation Study [RALES]).” American Journal of Cardiology, 1996.
2. RALES @ Wiki Journal Club
3. RALES @ 2 Minute Medicine
4. EPHESUS @ Wiki Journal Club
5. EMPHASIS-HF @ Wiki Journal Club
6. TOPCAT @ Wiki Journal Club
7. 2013 ACCF/AHA Guideline for the Management of Heart Failure

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Image Credit: Spirono, CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons


“Oral Rivaroxaban for the Treatment of Symptomatic Pulmonary Embolism”

by the EINSTEIN-PE Investigators

N Engl J Med. 2012 Apr 5;366(14):1287-97. [free full text]

Prior to the introduction of DOACs, the standard of care for treatment of acute VTE was treatment with a vitamin K antagonist (VKA, e.g. warfarin) bridged with LMWH. In 2010, the EINSTEIN-DVT study demonstrated the non-inferiority of rivaroxaban (Xarelto) versus VKA with an enoxaparin bridge in patients with acute DVT in the prevention of recurrent VTE. Subsequently, in this 2012 study, EINSTEIN-PE, the EINSTEIN investigators examined the potential role for rivaroxaban in the treatment of acute PE.

This open-label RCT compared treatment of acute PE (± DVT) with rivaroxaban (15mg PO BID x21 days, followed by 20mg PO daily) versus VKA with an enoxaparin 1mg/kg bridge until the INR was therapeutic for 2+ days and the patient had received at least 5 days of enoxaparin. Patients with cancer were not excluded if they had a life expectancy of ≥ 3 months, but they comprised only ~4.5% of the patient population. Treatment duration was determined by the discretion of the treating physician and was decided prior to randomization. Duration was also a stratifying factor in the randomization. The primary outcome was symptomatic recurrent VTE (fatal or nonfatal). The pre-specified noninferiority margin was 2.0 for the upper limit of the 95% confidence interval of the hazard ratio. The primary safety outcome was “clinically relevant bleeding.”

4833 patients were randomized. In the conventional-therapy group, the INR was in the therapeutic range 62.7% of the time. Symptomatic recurrent VTE occurred in 2.1% of patients in the rivaroxaban group and 1.8% of patients in the conventional-therapy group (HR 1.12, 95% CI 0.75–1.68, p = 0.003 for noninferiority). The p value for superiority of conventional therapy over rivaroxaban was 0.57. A first episode of “clinically relevant bleeding” occurred in 10.3% of the rivaroxaban group versus 11.4% of the conventional-therapy group (HR 0.90, 95% CI 0.76-1.07, p = 0.23).

In a large, open-label RCT, rivaroxaban was shown to be noninferior to standard therapy with a VKA + enoxaparin bridge in the treatment of acute PE. This was the first major RCT to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of a DOAC in the treatment of PE and led to FDA approval of rivaroxaban for the treatment of PE that same year. The following year, the AMPLIFY trial demonstrated that apixaban was noninferior to VKA + LMWH bridge in the prevention of recurrent VTE, and apixaban was also approved by the FDA for the treatment of PE. The 2016 Chest guidelines for Antithrombotic Therapy for VTE Disease recommend the DOACs rivaroxaban, apixaban, dabigatran, or edoxaban over VKA therapy in VTE not associated with cancer. In cancer-associated VTE, LMWH remains the recommended initial agent. (See the Week 10 – CLOT post.) As noted previously, a study earlier this year in NEJM demonstrated the noninferiority of edoxaban over LMWH in the treatment of cancer-associated VTE.

Further Reading/References:
2. EINSTEIN-PE @ Wiki Journal Club
3. EINSTEIN-PE @ 2 Minute Medicine
4. AMPLIFY @ Wiki Journal Club
5. “Edoxaban for the Treatment of Cancer-Associated Venous Thromboembolism” NEJM 2018

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Image Credit: James Heilman, MD / CC BY-SA 4.0 / via WikiMedia Commons