From the Journals

New angiotensin studies in COVID-19 give more reassurance


Four more studies of the relationship of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin-receptor blockers (ARBs) with COVID-19 have been published in the past few days in top-tier peer-reviewed journals, and on the whole, the data are reassuring.

Three of the new studies were published in the New England Journal of Medicine on May 1, and one study was published in JAMA Cardiology on May 5.

Although all the studies are observational in design and have some confounding factors, overall, the results do not suggest that continued use of ACE inhibitors and ARBs causes harm. However, there are some contradictory findings in secondary analyses regarding possible differences in the effects of the two drug classes.

Providing commentary, John McMurray, MD, professor of medical cardiology at the University of Glasgow, said: “The overall picture seems to suggest no increase in risk of adverse outcomes in patients taking renin-angiotensin system [RAS] blockers ― but with lots of caveats: These are all observational rather than randomized studies, and there may be residual or unmeasured confounding.”

Was it ‘Much ado about nothing’?

Franz Messerli, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Bern (Switzerland), added: “Given this state of the art, I am inclined to consider RAS blockade and COVID-19 – despite all the hype in the news media – as much ado about nothing.”

But both Dr. McMurray and Dr. Messerli said they were intrigued about possible differences in the effects of ACE inhibitors and ARBs that some of the new results suggest.

In one study, a team led by Mandeep Mehra, MD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital Heart and Vascular Center, Boston, analyzed data from 8,910 patients with COVID-19 admitted to 169 hospitals in Asia, Europe, and North America who had either died in the hospital (5.8%) or survived to hospital discharge (94.2%).

In multivariate logistic-regression analysis, age greater than 65 years, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, history of cardiac arrhythmia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and current smoking were associated with an increased risk for in-hospital death. Female sex was associated with a decreased risk. Neither ACE inhibitors nor ARBs were associated with an increased risk for in-hospital death.

In fact, ACE inhibitors were associated with a significant reduction in mortality (odds ratio, 0.33), as were statins (OR, 0.35).

The authors, however, stressed that these observations about reduced mortality with ACE inhibitors and statins “should be considered with extreme caution.”

“Because our study was not a randomized, controlled trial, we cannot exclude the possibility of confounding. In addition, we examined relationships between many variables and in-hospital death, and no primary hypothesis was prespecified; these factors increased the probability of chance associations being found. Therefore, a cause-and-effect relationship between drug therapy and survival should not be inferred,” they wrote.

A secondary analysis that was restricted to patients with hypertension (those for whom an ACE inhibitor or an ARB would be indicated) also did not show harm.

A second study published in the New England Journal of Medicine had a case-control design. The authors, led by Giuseppe Mancia, MD, of the University of Milano-Bicocca (Italy), compared 6,272 patients with confirmed COVID-19 (case patients) with 30,759 control persons who were matched according to age, sex, and municipality of residence.

In a conditional logistic-regression multivariate analysis, neither ACE inhibitors nor ARBs were associated with the likelihood of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

“Thus, our results do not provide evidence of an independent relationship between renin angiotensin aldosterone blockers and the susceptibility to COVID-19 in humans,” the authors concluded.

In addition, a second analysis that compared patients who had severe or fatal infections with matched control persons did not show an association between ACE inhibitors or ARBs and severe disease.

In the third study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a group led by Harmony R. Reynolds, MD, of New York University, analyzed data from the health records of 12,594 patients in the NYU Langone Health system who had been tested for COVID-19. They found 5,894 patients whose test results were positive. Of these patients, 1,002 had severe illness, which was defined as illness requiring admission to the ICU, need for mechanical ventilation, or death.

Using Bayesian analysis and propensity score matching, the researchers assessed the relation between previous treatment with five different classes of antihypertensive drugs (ACE inhibitors, ARBs, beta blockers, calcium blockers, and thiazide diuretics) and the likelihood of a positive or negative result on COVID-19 testing, as well as the likelihood of severe illness among patients who tested positive.

Results showed no positive association between any of the analyzed drug classes and either a positive test result or severe illness.

In an accompanying editorial, a group led by John A. Jarcho, MD, of Harvard Medical School, Boston, and deputy editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, wrote: “Taken together, these three studies do not provide evidence to support the hypothesis that ACE inhibitor or ARB use is associated with the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection, the risk of severe COVID-19 among those infected, or the risk of in-hospital death among those with a positive test.

“Each of these studies has weaknesses inherent in observational data, but we find it reassuring that three studies in different populations and with different designs arrive at the consistent message that the continued use of ACE inhibitors and ARBs is unlikely to be harmful in patients with COVID-19. Several other smaller studies from China and the United Kingdom have come to the same conclusion,” the authors of the editorial stated.

In the study published in JAMA Cardiology, a group led by Neil Mehta, MBBS, of the Cleveland Clinic, Ohio, analyzed data on 18,472 patients who had been tested for COVID-19 between March 8 and April 12 in the Cleveland Clinic Health System in Ohio and Florida. Of these patients, 9.4% tested positive.

After overlap propensity score weighting for both ACE inhibitors and ARBs to take into account relevant comorbidities, there was no difference in risk for testing positive among patients taking an ACE inhibitor or an ARB in comparison with those not taking such medication.


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