Among patients with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), 2 years after release of treat-to-target guidelines from the American Heart Association and the European Society of Cardiology and European Atherosclerosis Society, most patients with LDL cholesterol higher than 70 mg/dL did not receive intensification of therapy, and two-thirds continued to have LDL levels above that level, according to a prospective registry study.
Both guidelines recommend driving LDL-C levels to 50% or below of baseline levels; results from the Getting to an Improved Understanding of Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol and Dyslipidemia Management (GOULD) registry suggest this is rarely achieved. “Unfortunately it’s not a total surprise, but it’s disappointing,” said Christopher Cannon, MD, the study’s lead author.
“Therapeutic inertia seems to be the rule in clinical practice,” said Jennifer G. Robinson, MD, MPH, who was asked to comment on the study. Robinson is professor epidemiology and cardiology at the University of Iowa, Iowa City.
“This is yet another disappointing reminder of how we are failing our patients. Lipid lowering is one of the safest, most effective ways to prevent cardiovascular disease, and yet we are falling short. We have the tools in our toolkit to achieve guideline-based lipid lowering goals, but we just aren’t using them,” said Ann Marie Navar, MD, PhD, associate professor of cardiology at the University of Texas, Dallas.
Changes in practice following guidelines can often be slow, but in this case may have been complicated by the fact that statins have a reputation for causing side effects, so some patients may be refusing treatment based on what they’ve seen on the Internet. Even though the study looked at all lipid-lowering agents, the misinformation around statins may be spilling over, according to Cannon. “There’s in general so much misinformation around COVID and every other topic in the world. That makes people question what is real [about] anything,” said Cannon, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, both in Boston.
Patient characteristics may partly explain slow uptake. “Clinicians may not think further LDL-C lowering is a high enough priority in terms of potential benefit for a given patient in light of the effort being expended to take care of all their other issues and chronic health problems. If the clinician does bring it up to the patient, there may be barriers in terms of additional medication burden, cost, or acquisition issues,” said Robinson.
The answer may be better evidence and a more personalized approach. Clinical trials that explore defined patient populations could convince patients of a benefit, and payers to reimburse, according to Robinson.
Another complication is that both the guidelines and the field are rapidly changing. The 2013 AHA guidelines did not include a treatment to goal and focused instead on use of high-dose statins. But the 2018 update reversed course after randomized studies demonstrated a benefit to treating to target. The researchers found no increase in the frequency of treating to target after the release of the 2018 guidelines. “Publication and announcement of guidelines doesn’t mean that people are getting treated better. We really have to implement them,” said Cannon.
On a positive note, the GOULD researchers found high acceptance of the new proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 serine protease (PCSK9) inhibitors, with over 90% of patients continuing those medications after 2 years. “That’s nice and high. If people do get onto the very intensive lipid-lowing therapies, they tend to stay on them,” said Cannon.
Still, the lack of intensification is concerning, and the findings led to some consternation in Twitter exchanges, said Cannon. “People posted ‘Well, what do we do now?’ ” Cannon’s team is addressing the issue with a follow-up randomized study at a subset of centers that participated in this study. They have conducted educational webinars and provided site-specific reports on LDL status among patients at each center compared to others, and hope that information will improve compliance. In 2020, the group published an interim analysis of the first 5,000 GOULD enrollees, and Cannon expects to finish that study by the end of the year.
Navar agreed that physicians need to do a better job of testing LDL-C levels after treatment to identify patients who require more aggressive therapy. That can be deferred in some primary prevention patients with high LDL-C but normal particle numbers as measured with ApoB. “But in those at high risk for disease and those with established CVD who are not at goal, as long as they don’t have a life-limiting condition, we should always up-titrate therapy. It’s one of the safest, most effective ways to lower cardiovascular risk,” said Navar.
Key Study Results
The prospective study included 5,006 patients at 119 centers with a mean age of 68 years. About 40% were women, and 86.1% were White. All had ASCVD and LDL levels of at least 70 mg/dL. After 2 years, 17% had undergone intensification of lipid-lowering therapy (LLT). Among patients with LDL-C levels ≥ 100 mg/dL, 22% underwent LLT intensification, compared with 14% of patients with LDL-C levels of 70-99 mg/dL.
The vast majority, 92%, of patients who underwent LLT via addition of PCSK9 inhibitors were still taking the drug after 2 years.
Three-quarters (3,768) had lipid level measurements at least once during follow-up, and median LDL-C levels dropped from 120 to 95 mg/dL in the ≥100-mg/dL cohort (P < .001), and from 82 to 77 mg/dL in the 70- to 99-mg/dL cohort (P <. 001). There was no significant difference in the median values in the patients on PCSK9 inhibitors.
In all, 21% of the ≥100-mg/dL cohort achieved LDL-C levels <70 mg/dL at 2 years, versus 34% in the 77- to 99-mg/dL cohort and 52% of patients taking PCSK9 inhibitors.
Patients seen at teaching hospitals were more likely to undergo LLT intensification compared to nonteaching hospitals (25% versus 17%; P < .001), as were those where lipid protocols were in place (22% versus 15%; P < .001), and those treated in cardiology (22%) compared to treatment in internal or family medicine (12%; P <.001). The study was published online June 16 in JAMA Cardiology.
Cannon, Navar, and Robinson disclosed ties with Amgen, which funded the study, and other companies.
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.