Experts cautiously optimistic
Some cardiovascular experts were cautiously optimistic about these latest results.
Michael A. Weber, MD, professor of medicine at the State University of New York, Brooklyn, and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Clinical Hypertension, said: “This new report from Wuhan, China, gives modest reassurance that the use of ACE inhibitors or ARBs in hypertensive patients with COVID-19 disease does not increase the risk of clinical deterioration or death.
“Ongoing, more definitive studies should help resolve competing hypotheses regarding the effects of these agents: whether the increased ACE2 enzyme levels they produce can worsen outcomes by increasing access of the COVID virus to lung tissue; or whether there is a benefit linked to a protective effect of increased ACE2 on alveolar cell function,” Dr. Weber noted.
“Though the number of patients included in this new report is small, it is startling that hypertensive patients were three times as likely as nonhypertensives to have a fatal outcome, presumably reflecting vulnerability due to the cardiovascular and metabolic comorbidities associated with hypertension,” he added.
“In any case, for now, clinicians should continue treating hypertensive patients with whichever drugs, including ACE inhibitors and ARBs, best provide protection from adverse outcomes,” Dr. Weber concluded.
John McMurray, MD, professor of medical cardiology, University of Glasgow, Scotland, commented: “This study from Wuhan provides some reassurance about one of the two questions about ACEI/ARBs: Do these drugs increase susceptibility to infection? And if [the patient is] infected, do they increase the severity of infection? This study addresses the latter question and appears to suggest no increased severity.”
However, Dr. McMurray pointed out that the study had many limitations. There were only small patient numbers and the data were unadjusted, “although it looks like the ACE inhibitor/ARB treated patients were higher risk to start with.” It was an observational study, and patients were not randomized and were predominantly treated with ARBs, and not ACE inhibitors, so “we don’t know if the concerns apply equally to these two classes of drug.
“Other data published and unpublished supporting this (even showing better outcomes in patients treated with an ACE inhibitor/ARB), and, to date, any concerns about these drugs remain unsubstantiated and the guidance from medical societies to continue treatment with these agents in patients prescribed them seems wise,” Dr. McMurray added.
Franz H. Messerli, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Bern, Switzerland, commented: “The study from Wuhan is not a great study. They didn’t even do a multivariable analysis. They could have done a bit more with the data, but it still gives some reassurance.”
Dr. Messerli said it was “interesting” that 30% of the patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the sample had hypertension. “That corresponds to the general population, so does not suggest that having hypertension increases susceptibility to infection – but it does seem to increase the risk of a bad outcome.”
Dr. Messerli noted that there are two more similar studies due to be published soon, both said to suggest either a beneficial or neutral effect of ACE inhibitors/ARBs on COVID-19 outcomes in hospitalized patients.
“This does help with confidence in prescribing these agents and reinforces the recommendations for patients to stay on these drugs,” he said.
“However, none of these studies address the infectivity issue – whether their use upregulates the ACE2 receptor, which the virus uses to gain entry to cells, thereby increasing susceptibility to the infection,” Dr. Messerli cautioned. “But the similar or better outcomes on these drugs are encouraging,” he added.
The Wuhan study was supported by the Health and Family Planning Commission of Wuhan City, China. The authors have reported no relevant financial relationships.
A version of this article originally appeared on.