Conference Coverage

Tools for preventing heart failure



– If ever there was a major chronic disease that’s teed up and ready to be stamped into submission through diligent application of preventive medicine, it’s the epidemic of heart failure.

Dr. Gregg C. Fonarow, professor of cardiovascular medicine, chief of the UCLA division of cardiology, and director of the Ahmanson-UCLA Cardiomyopathy Center Bruce Jancin/MDedge News

Dr. Gregg C. Fonarow

“The best way to treat heart failure is to prevent it in the first place. There will be more than 1 million new cases of heart failure this year, and the vast majority of them could have been prevented,” Gregg C. Fonarow, MD, asserted at the annual Cardiovascular Conference at Snowmass sponsored by the American College of Cardiology.

Using firmly evidence-based, guideline-directed therapies, it’s often possible to prevent patients at high risk for developing heart failure (HF) from actually doing so. Or, in the terminology of the ACC/American Heart Association heart failure guidelines coauthored by Dr. Fonarow, the goal is to keep patients who are stage A – that is, pre-HF but at high risk because of hypertension, coronary artery disease, diabetes, family history of cardiomyopathy, or other reasons – from progressing to stage B, marked by asymptomatic left ventricular dysfunction, a prior MI, or asymptomatic valvular disease; and blocking those who are stage B from then moving on to stage C, the classic symptomatic form of HF; and thence to end-stage stage D disease.

Heart failure is an enormous public health problem, and one of the most expensive of all diseases. The prognostic impact of newly diagnosed HF is profound, with 10-15 years of life lost, compared with the general population. Even today, roughly one in five newly diagnosed patients won’t survive for a year, and the 5-year mortality is about 50%, said Dr. Fonarow, who is professor of cardiovascular medicine and chief of the division of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and director of the Ahmanson-UCLA Cardiomyopathy Center, also in Los Angeles.

Symptomatic stage C is “the tip of the iceberg,” the cardiologist stressed. Vastly more patients are in stages A and B. In order to keep them from progressing to stage C, it’s first necessary to identify them. That’s why the 2013 guidelines give a class IC recommendation for periodic evaluation for signs and symptoms of HF in patients who are at high risk, and for a noninvasive assessment of left ventricular ejection fraction in those with a strong family history of cardiomyopathy or who are on cardiotoxic drugs (J Am Coll Cardiol. 2013 Oct 15;62[16]:e147-239).

The two biggest risk factors for the development of symptomatic stage C HF are hypertension and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Close to 80% of patients presenting with heart failure have prevalent hypertension, and a history of ischemic heart disease is nearly as common.

Other major modifiable risk factors are diabetes, overweight and obesity, metabolic syndrome, dyslipidemia, smoking, valvular heart disease, and chronic kidney disease.


Most patients with high blood pressure believe they’re on antihypertensive medication to prevent MI and stroke, but in reality the largest benefit is what Dr. Fonarow termed the “phenomenal” reduction in the risk of developing HF, which amounted to a 52% relative risk reduction in one meta-analysis of older randomized trials. In the contemporary era, the landmark SPRINT trial of close to 10,000 randomized hypertensive patients showed that more-intensive blood pressure lowering to a target systolic BP of less than 120 mm Hg resulted in a 38% reduction in the risk of new-onset HF, compared with standard treatment to a target of less than 140 mm Hg. That’s why the 2017 focused update of the HF guidelines gives a strong class IB recommendation for a target blood pressure of less than 130/80 mm Hg in hypertensive patients with stage A HF (J Am Coll Cardiol. 2017 Aug 8;70[6]:776-803).


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