Ultrasound, cardiac CT valuable in COVID-19 assessment



As if the management of patients with severe COVID-19 infections is not complicated enough, an estimated 50%-60% of patients admitted to an ICU with the disease will have some form of cardiovascular involvement, which further increases their already high risk for morbidity and mortality.

Dr. Marcelo Di Carli

Multimodality cardiovascular imaging, chosen wisely, can both help to direct management of cardiovascular complications associated with COVID-19 and lessen risk of exposure of health care workers to SARS-CoV-2, said members of an expert panel from the American College of Cardiology Cardiovascular Imaging Leadership Council.

“When we face a patient with known or suspected COVID-19, it’s not like any other disease because we face potential exposure risk to personnel doing imaging studies and also to other patients,” corresponding author Marcelo F. Di Carli, MD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital Boston said in an interview.

“Any imaging study that is being considered should be performed only if we think it will help us make a change in the way that we’re going to treat that particular patient. This is true for imaging in any disease – why would you do an imaging study that will make no difference in treatment? – but the stakes are even higher in COVID-19,” he said.

The panel’s recommendations for cardiovascular imaging in patients with COVID-19 are outlined in a guidance document published online in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Testing and biomarkers

The guidance begins by highlighting the importance of diagnostic testing for COVID-19 infection and the use of universal precautions for health care personnel performing imaging studies, as well as disinfection of imaging equipment and rooms after each use.

Circulating biomarkers that measure end-organ stress or injury, inflammation, hypoperfusion, and activation of thrombosis/hemostasis pathways may be prognostically useful, but “almost none of the widely measured biomarkers represent a specific trigger for imaging outside of that supported by clinical judgment,” the guidance states.

In contrast, low to moderate, nonrising concentrations of markers for myocardial stress, such as B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) and N-terminal pro-BNP (NT-proBNP), or of myocardial injury, such as cardiac troponins (cTn), may be helpful for excluding the need for imaging.

“Importantly, clinicians should be aware that most patients with abnormal BNP/NT-proBNP or cTn do not have acute heart failure or myocardial infarction; and rise in concentration of either class of biomarker presumably reflects complex processes including direct myocardial stress/injury related to systemic illness,” the panel members wrote.

Oldies but goodies

“One thing that we found out in our review of the literature and in our experiences in our own work settings is that cardiac ultrasound plays a huge role in this disease – like in any disease – but this one in particular,” Dr. Di Carli said. “One of the most feared complications in COVID-19 leads to inflammation of the heart muscle, which then leads to heart dysfunction. And of course cardiac ultrasound, because of its portability, can be performed at bedside to help clinicians ascertain an abnormality in the heart.”

Cardiac CT is also extremely helpful for determining whether patients with ECG findings suggestive of infarction have suffered an actual thrombotic event.

“These patients may best be served by a noninvasive study as compared to an invasive coronary angiogram,” he said.

Clinical scenarios

Cardiologists may be called in to consult on the evaluation of possible cardiogenic components of pulmonary abnormalities in patients who present with dyspnea and chest x-rays showing airspace or interstitial infiltrates suggestive of pneumonia, the authors noted.

“Clinicians will rely on history, physical exam, ECG [electrocardiogram] and biomarkers, and recent cardiac imaging tests if available. Underlying cardiac history including [coronary artery disease], cardiomyopathy, heart failure, and arrhythmia should be sought, and frequent contributors to decompensation should be eliminated,” they wrote.

For patients with suspected cardiac injury, either point-of-care ultrasound or limited echocardiography can be used for the initial evaluation, with additional, more advanced technologies called into play for specific clinical scenarios outlined in the guidance.

For example, the guidance recommends that patients with chest pain and abnormal ECG readings with clinical concern for ST-elevation acute coronary syndrome or high clinical risk for in-hospital mortality from conditions such as cardiogenic shock, dynamic ST-segment changes, or left ventricular ejection fraction less than 40% thought to be caused by non–ST-elevation myocardial infarction be referred for emergent coronary angiography and reperfusion.

In contrast, in patients with chest pain and abnormal ECG but equivocal symptoms, atypical or equivocal ECG abnormalities, or late presentations, point-of-care ultrasound or limited echocardiogram could be used to look for regional wall motion abnormalities and left ventricular ejection fraction, whereas in patients with chest pain and ST-elevation without clear evidence of ST-elevation myocardial infarction, coronary CT angiography can help to rule out ACS and point to alternate diagnoses, the authors said.

The guidance also offers recommendations for imaging in patients with hemodynamic instability (shock or hypotension), patients with new left ventricular dysfunction in the absence of shock or hypotension, and patients with subacute and chronic-phase disease.

Development of the guidance document was supported by the ACC. Dr. Di Carli disclosed institutional grant support from Gilead Sciences and Spectrum Dynamics, and consulting income from Janssen and Bayer.

SOURCE: Rudski L et al. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2020 Jul 22. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2020.06.080.

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