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

Week 37 – AFFIRM

“A Comparison of Rate Control and Rhythm Control in Patients with Atrial Fibrillation”

by the Atrial Fibrillation Follow-Up Investigation of Rhythm Management (AFFIRM) Investigators

N Engl J Med. 2002 Dec 5;347(23):1825-33. [free full text]

It seems like the majority of patients with atrial fibrillation that we encounter today in the inpatient setting are being treated with a rate-control strategy, as opposed to a rhythm-control strategy. There was a time when both approaches were considered acceptable, and perhaps rhythm control was even the preferred initial strategy. The AFFIRM trial was the landmark study to address this debate.

The trial randomized patients with atrial fibrillation (judged “likely to be recurrent”) aged 65 or older “or who had other risk factors for stroke or death” to either 1) a rhythm-control strategy with one or more drugs from a pre-specified list and/or cardioversion to achieve sinus rhythm or 2) a rate-control strategy with beta-blockers, CCBs, and/or digoxin to a target resting HR ≤ 80 and a six-minute walk test HR ≤ 110. The primary endpoint was death during follow-up. The major secondary endpoint was a composite of death, disabling stroke, disabling anoxic encephalopathy, major bleeding, and cardiac arrest.

4060 patients were randomized. Death occurred in 26.7% of rhythm-control patients versus 25.9% of rate-control patients (HR 1.15, 95% CI 0.99 – 1.34, p = 0.08). The composite secondary endpoint occurred in 32.0% of rhythm control-patients versus 32.7% of rate-control patients (p = 0.33). Rhythm-control strategy was associated with a higher risk of death among patients older than 65 and patients with CAD (see Figure 2). Additionally, rhythm-control patients were more likely to be hospitalized during follow-up (80.1% vs. 73.0%, p < 0.001) and to develop torsades de pointes (0.8% vs. 0.2%, p = 0.007).

This trial demonstrated that a rhythm-control strategy in atrial fibrillation offers no mortality benefit over a rate-control strategy. At the time of publication, the authors wrote that rate control was an “accepted, though often secondary alternative” to rhythm control. Their study clearly demonstrated that there was no significant mortality benefit to either strategy and that hospitalizations were greater in the rhythm-control group. In subgroup analysis that rhythm control led to higher mortality among the elderly and those with CAD. Notably, 37.5% of rhythm-control patients had crossed over to rate control strategy by 5 years of follow-up, whereas only 14.9% of rate-control patients had switched over to rhythm control.

But what does this study mean for our practice today? Generally speaking, rate control is preferred in most patients, particularly the elderly and patients with CHF, whereas rhythm control may be pursued in patients with persistent symptoms despite rate control, patients unable to achieve rate control on AV nodal agents alone, and patients younger than 65. Both the AHA/ACC (2014) and the European Society of Cardiology (2016) guidelines have extensive recommendations that detail specific patient scenarios.

Further Reading / References:
1. Cardiologytrials.org
2. AFFIRM @ Wiki Journal Club
3. AFFIRM @ 2 Minute Medicine
4. Visual abstract @ Visualmed

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

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

Week 36 – CORTICUS

“Hydrocortisone Therapy for Patients with Septic Shock”

N Engl J Med. 2008 Jan 10;358(2):111-24. [free full text]

Steroid therapy in septic shock has been a hotly debated topic since the 1980s. The Annane trial in 2002 suggested that there was a mortality benefit to early steroid therapy and so for almost a decade this became standard of care. In 2008, the CORTICUS trial was performed suggesting otherwise.

The trial enrolled ICU patients with septic shock onset with past 72 hrs (defined as SBP < 90 despite fluids or need for vasopressors and hypoperfusion or organ dysfunction from sepsis). Excluded patients included those with an “underlying disease with a poor prognosis,” life expectancy < 24hrs, immunosuppression, and recent corticosteroid use. Patients were randomized to hydrocortisone 50mg IV q6h x5 days plus taper or to placebo injections q6h x5 days plus taper. The primary outcome was 28-day mortality among patients who did not have a response to ACTH stim test (cortisol rise < 9mcg/dL). Secondary outcomes included 28-day mortality in patients who had a positive response to ACTH stim test, 28-day mortality in all patients, reversal of shock (defined as SBP ≥ 90 for at least 24hrs without vasopressors) in all patients and time to reversal of shock in all patients.

In ACTH non-responders (n = 233), intervention vs. control 28-day mortality was 39.2% vs. 36.1%, respectively (p = 0.69). In ACTH responders (n = 254), intervention vs. control 28-day mortality was 28.8% vs. 28.7% respectively (p = 1.00). Reversal of was shock 84.7%% vs. 76.5% (p = 0.13). Among all patients, intervention vs. control 28-day mortality was 34.3% vs. 31.5% (p = 0.51) and reversal of shock 79.7% vs. 74.2% (p = 0.18). The duration of time to reversal of shock was significantly shorter among patients receiving hydrocortisone (per Kaplan-Meier analysis, p<0.001; see Figure 2) with median time to of reversal 3.3 days vs. 5.8 days (95% CI 5.2 – 6.9).

In conclusion, the CORTICUS trial demonstrated no mortality benefit of steroid therapy in septic shock regardless of a patient’s response to ACTH. Despite the lack of mortality benefit, it demonstrated an earlier resolution of shock with steroids. This lack of mortality benefit sharply contrasted with the previous Annane 2002 study. Several reasons have been posited for this difference including poor powering of the CORTICUS study (which did not reach the desired n = 800), inclusion starting within 72 hrs of septic shock vs. Annane starting within 8 hrs, and the overall sicker nature of Annane patients (who were all mechanically ventilated). Subsequent meta-analyses disagree about the mortality benefit of steroids, but meta-regression analyses suggest benefit among the sickest patients. All studies agree about the improvement in shock reversal. The 2016 Surviving Sepsis Campaign guidelines recommend IV hydrocortisone in septic shock in patients who continue to be hemodynamically unstable despite adequate fluid resuscitation and vasopressor therapy.

Per Drs. Sonti and Vinayak of the GUH MICU (excepted from their excellent Georgetown Critical Care Top 40): “Practically, we use steroids when reaching for a second pressor or if there is multiorgan system dysfunction. Our liver patients may have deficient cortisol production due to inadequate precursor lipid production; use of corticosteroids in these patients represents physiologic replacement rather than adjunct supplement.”

The ANZICS collaborative group published the ADRENAL trial in NEJM in 2018 – which demonstrated that “among patients with septic shock undergoing mechanical ventilation, a continuous infusion of hydrocortisone did not result in lower 90-day mortality than placebo.” The authors did note “a more rapid resolution of shock and a lower incidence of blood transfusion” among patients receiving hydrocortisone. The folks at EmCrit argued that this was essentially a negative study, and thus in the existing context of CORTICUS, the results of the ADRENAL trial do not change our management of refractory septic shock.

Finally, the 2018 APPROCCHSS trial (also by Annane) evaluated the survival benefit hydrocortisone plus fludocortisone vs. placebo in patients with septic shock and found that this intervention reduced 90-day all-cause mortality. At this time, it is difficult truly discern the added information of this trial given its timeframe, sample size, and severity of underlying illness. See the excellent discussion in the following links: WikiJournal Club, PulmCrit, PulmCCM, and UpToDate.

References / Additional Reading:
1. CORTICUS @ Wiki Journal Club
2. CORTICUS @ Minute Medicine
3. Surviving Sepsis Campaign: International Guidelines for Management of Sepsis and Septic Shock (2016), section “Corticosteroids”
4. Annane trial (2002) full text
5. PulmCCM, “Corticosteroids do help in sepsis: ADRENAL trial”
6. UpToDate, “Glucocorticoid therapy in septic shock”

Post by Gordon Pelegrin, MD

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

Week 35 – POISE

“Effects of extended-release metoprolol succinate in patients undergoing non-cardiac surgery: a randomised controlled trial”

aka the PeriOperative Ischemic Evaluation (POISE) trial

Lancet. 2008 May 31;371(9627):1839-47. [free full text]

Non-cardiac surgery is commonly associated with major cardiovascular complications. It has been hypothesized that perioperative beta blockade would reduce such events by attenuating the effects of the intraoperative increases in catecholamine levels. Prior to the 2008 POISE trial, small- and moderate-sized trials had revealed inconsistent results, alternately demonstrating benefit and non-benefit with perioperative beta blockade. The POISE trial was a large RCT designed to assess the benefit of extended-release metoprolol succinate (vs. placebo) in reducing major cardiovascular events in patients of elevated cardiovascular risk.

The trial enrolled patients age 45+ undergoing non-cardiac surgery with estimated LOS 24+ hrs and elevated risk of cardiac disease, meaning: either 1) hx of CAD, 2) peripheral vascular disease, 3) hospitalization for CHF within past 3 years, 4) undergoing major vascular surgery, 5) or any three of the following seven risk criteria: undergoing intrathoracic or intraperitoneal surgery, hx CHF, hx TIA, hx DM, Cr > 2.0, age 70+, or undergoing urgent/emergent surgery.

Notable exclusion criteria: HR < 50, 2nd or 3rd degree heart block, asthma, already on beta blocker, prior intolerance of beta blocker, hx CABG within 5 years and no cardiac ischemia since

Intervention: metoprolol succinate (extended-release) 100mg PO starting 2-4 hrs before surgery, additional 100mg at 6-12 hrs postoperatively, followed by 200mg daily for 30 days.

Patients unable to take PO meds postoperatively were given metoprolol infusion.


Comparison: placebo PO / IV at same frequency as metoprolol arm

Primary – composite of cardiovascular death, non-fatal MI, and non-fatal cardiac arrest at 30 days

Secondary (at 30 days)

      • cardiovascular death
      • non-fatal MI
      • non-fatal cardiac arrest
      • all-cause mortality
      • non-cardiovascular death
      • MI
      • cardiac revascularization
      • stroke
      • non-fatal stroke
      • CHF
      • new, clinically significant atrial fibrillation
      • clinically significant hypotension
      • clinically significant bradycardia


Pre-specified subgroup analyses of primary outcome:

9298 patients were randomized. However, fraudulent activity was detected at participating sites in Iran and Colombia, and thus 947 patients from these sites were excluded from the final analyses. Ultimately, 4174 were randomized to the metoprolol group, and 4177 were randomized to the placebo group. There were no significant differences in baseline characteristics, pre-operative cardiac medications, surgery type, or anesthesia type between the two groups (see Table 1).

Regarding the primary outcome, metoprolol patients were less likely than placebo patients to experience the primary composite endpoint of cardiovascular death, non-fatal MI, and non-fatal cardiac arrest (HR 0.84, 95% CI 0.70-0.99, p = 0.0399). See Figure 2A for the relevant Kaplan-Meier curve. Note that the curves separate distinctly within the first several days.

Regarding selected secondary outcomes (see Table 3 for full list), metoprolol patients were more likely to die from any cause (HR 1.33, 95% CI 1.03-1.74, p = 0.0317). See Figure 2D for the Kaplan-Meier curve for all-cause mortality. Note that the curves start to separate around day 10. Cause of death was analyzed, and the only group difference in attributable cause was an increased number of deaths due to sepsis or infection in the metoprolol group (data not shown). Metoprolol patients were more likely to sustain a stroke (HR 2.17, 95% CI 1.26-3.74, p = 0.0053) or a non-fatal stroke (HR 1.94, 95% CI 1.01-3.69, p = 0.0450). Of all patients who sustained a non-fatal stroke, only 15-20% made a full recovery. Metoprolol patients were less likely to sustain new-onset atrial fibrillation (HR 0.76, 95% CI 0.58-0.99, p = 0.0435) and less likely to sustain a non-fatal MI (HR 0.70, 95% CI 0.57-0.86, p = 0.0008). There were no group differences in risk of cardiovascular death or non-fatal cardiac arrest. Metoprolol patients were more likely to sustain clinically significant hypotension (HR 1.55, 95% CI 1.38-1.74, p < 0.0001) and clinically significant bradycardia (HR 2.74, 95% CI 2.19-3.43, p < 0.0001).

Subgroup analysis did not reveal any significant interaction with the primary outcome by RCRI, sex, type of surgery, or anesthesia type.

In patients with cardiovascular risk factors undergoing non-cardiac surgery, the perioperative initiation of beta blockade decreased the composite risk of cardiovascular death, non-fatal MI, and non-fatal cardiac arrest and increased the overall mortality risk and risk of stroke.

This study affirms its central hypothesis – that blunting the catecholamine surge of surgery is beneficial from a cardiac standpoint. (Most patients in this study had an RCRI of 1 or 2.) However, the attendant increase in all-cause mortality is dramatic. The increased mortality is thought to result from delayed recognition of sepsis due to masking of tachycardia. Beta blockade may also limit the physiologic hemodynamic response necessary to successfully fight a serious infection. In retrospective analyses mentioned in the discussion, the investigators state that they cannot fully explain the increased risk of stroke in the metoprolol group. However, hypotension attributable to beta blockade explains about half of the increased number of strokes.

Overall, the authors conclude that “patients are unlikely to accept the risks associated with perioperative extended-release metoprolol.”

A major limitation of this study is the fact that 10% of enrolled patients were discarded in analysis due to fraudulent activity at selected investigation sites. In terms of generalizability, it is important to remember that POISE excluded patients who were already on beta blockers.

POISE is an important piece of evidence underpinning the 2014 ACC/AHA Guideline on Perioperative Cardiovascular Evaluation and Management of Patients Undergoing Noncardiac Surgery, which includes the following recommendations regarding beta blockers:

      • Beta blocker therapy should not be started on the day of surgery (Class III – Harm, Level B)
      • Continue beta blockers in patients who are on beta blockers chronically (Class I, Level B)
      • In patients with intermediate- or high-risk preoperative tests, it may be reasonable to begin beta blockers
      • In patients with ≥ 3 RCRI risk factors, it may be reasonable to begin beta blockers before surgery
      • Initiating beta blockers in the perioperative setting as an approach to reduce perioperative risk is of uncertain benefit in those with a long-term indication but no other RCRI risk factors
      • It may be reasonable to begin perioperative beta blockers long enough in advance to assess safety and tolerability, preferably > 1 day before surgery

Further Reading/References:
1. POISE @ Wiki Journal Club
2. POISE @ 2 Minute Medicine
3. UpToDate, “Management of cardiac risk for noncardiac surgery”
4. 2014 ACC/AHA guideline on perioperative cardiovascular evaluation and management of patients undergoing noncardiac surgery: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on practice guidelines.

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

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Week 34 – 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 criteria: pt already < 30ºC on admission, comatose state prior to arrest due to CNS drugs, response to commands following ROSC

Intervention: Cooling to target temperature 32-34ºC with maintenance for 24 hrs followed by passive rewarming. Patients 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. Georgetown Critical Care Top 40, page 23 (Jan. 2016)
4. PulmCCM.org, “Hypothermia did not help after out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, in largest study yet”
5. Cochrane Review, “Hypothermia for neuroprotection in adults after cardiopulmonary resuscitation”
6. The NNT, “Mild Therapeutic Hypothermia for Neuroprotection Following CPR”
7. UpToDate, “Post-cardiac arrest management in adults”

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

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

Week 33 – ALLHAT

“Major Outcomes in High-Risk Hypertensive Patients Randomized to Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitor or Calcium Channel Blocker vs. Diuretic”

The Antihypertensive and Lipid-Lowering Treatment to Prevent Heart Attack Trial (ALLHAT)

JAMA. 2002 Dec 18;288(23):2981-97. [free full text]

Hypertension is a ubiquitous disease, and the cardiovascular and mortality benefits of BP control have been well described. However, as the number of available antihypertensive classes proliferated in the past several decades, a head-to-head comparison of different antihypertensive regimens was necessary to determine the optimal first-step therapy. The 2002 ALLHAT trial was a landmark trial in this effort.

33,357 patients aged 55 years or older with hypertension and at least one other coronary heart disease (CHD) risk factor (previous MI or stroke, LVH by ECG or echo, T2DM, current cigarette smoking, HDL < 35 mg/dL, or documentation of other atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (CVD)). Notable exclusion criteria: history of hospitalization for CHF, history of treated symptomatic CHF, or known LVEF < 35%.

Prior antihypertensives were discontinued upon initiation of the study drug. Patients were randomized to one of three study drugs in a double-blind fashion. Study drugs and additional drugs were added in a step-wise fashion to achieve a goal BP < 140/90 mmHg.

Step 1: titrate assigned study drug

      • chlorthalidone: 12.5 –> 12.5 (sham titration) –> 25 mg/day
      • amlodipine: 2.5 –> 5 –> 10 mg/day
      • lisinopril: 10 –> 20 –> 40 mg/day

Step 2: add open-label agents at treating physician’s discretion (atenolol, clonidine, or reserpine)

      • atenolol: 25 to 100 mg/day
      • reserpine: 0.05 to 0.2 mg/day
      • clonidine: 0.1 to 0.3 mg BID

Step 3: add hydralazine 25 to 100 mg BID

Pairwise comparisons with respect to outcomes of chlorthalidone vs. either amlodipine or lisinopril. A doxazosin arm existed initially, but it was terminated early due to an excess of CV events, primarily driven by CHF.

Primary –  combined fatal CAD or nonfatal MI


      • all-cause mortality
      • fatal and nonfatal stroke
      • combined CHD (primary outcome, PCI, or hospitalized angina)
      • combined CVD (CHD, stroke, non-hospitalized treated angina, CHF [fatal, hospitalized, or treated non-hospitalized], and PAD)

Over a mean follow-up period of 4.9 years, there was no difference between the groups in either the primary outcome or all-cause mortality.

When compared with chlorthalidone at 5 years, the amlodipine and lisinopril groups had significantly higher systolic blood pressures (by 0.8 mmHg and 2 mmHg, respectively). The amlodipine group had a lower diastolic blood pressure when compared to the chlorthalidone group (0.8 mmHg).

When comparing amlodipine to chlorthalidone for the pre-specified secondary outcomes, amlodipine was associated with an increased risk of heart failure (RR 1.38; 95% CI 1.25-1.52).

When comparing lisinopril to chlorthalidone for the pre-specified secondary outcomes, lisinopril was associated with an increased risk of stroke (RR 1.15; 95% CI 1.02-1.30), combined CVD (RR 1.10; 95% CI 1.05-1.16), and heart failure (RR 1.20; 95% CI 1.09-1.34). The increased risk of stroke was mostly driven by 3 subgroups: women (RR 1.22; 95% CI 1.01-1.46), blacks (RR 1.40; 95% CI 1.17-1.68), and non-diabetics (RR 1.23; 95% CI 1.05-1.44). The increased risk of CVD was statistically significant in all subgroups except in patients aged less than 65. The increased risk of heart failure was statistically significant in all subgroups.

In patients with hypertension and one risk factor for CAD, chlorthalidone, lisinopril, and amlodipine performed similarly in reducing the risks of fatal CAD and nonfatal MI.

The study has several strengths: a large and diverse study population, a randomized, double-blind structure, and the rigorous evaluation of three of the most commonly prescribed “newer” classes of antihypertensives. Unfortunately, neither an ARB nor an aldosterone antagonist was included in the study. Additionally, the step-up therapies were not reflective of contemporary practice. (Instead, patients would likely be prescribed one or more of the primary study drugs.)

The ALLHAT study is one of the hallmark studies of hypertension and has played an important role in hypertension guidelines since it was published. Following the publication of ALLHAT, thiazide diuretics became widely used as first line drugs in the treatment of hypertension. The low cost of thiazides and their limited side-effect profile are particularly attractive class features. While ALLHAT looked specifically at chlorthalidone, in practice the positive findings were attributed to HCTZ, which has been more often prescribed. The authors of ALLHAT argued that the superiority of thiazides was likely a class effect, but according to the analysis at Wiki Journal Club, “there is little direct evidence that HCTZ specifically reduces the incidence of CVD among hypertensive individuals.” Furthermore, a 2006 study noted that that HCTZ has worse 24-hour BP control than chlorthalidone due to a shorter half-life. The ALLHAT authors note that “since a large proportion of participants required more than 1 drug to control their BP, it is reasonable to infer that a diuretic be included in all multi-drug regimens, if possible.” The 2017 ACC/AHA High Blood Pressure Guidelines state that, of the four thiazide diuretics on the market, chlorthalidone is preferred because of a prolonged half-life and trial-proven reduction of CVD (via the ALLHAT study).

Further Reading / References:
1. 2017 ACC Hypertension Guidelines
2. ALLHAT @ Wiki Journal Club
3. 2 Minute Medicine
4. Ernst et al, “Comparative antihypertensive effects of hydrochlorothiazide and chlorthalidone on ambulatory and office blood pressure.” (2006)
5. Gillis Pharmaceuticals
6. Concepts in Hypertension, Volume 2 Issue 6

Summary by Ryan Commins MD

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