Groundbreaking results from the EMPEROR-Preserved trial did more than establish for the first time that a drug, empagliflozin, has clearly proven efficacy for treating patients with heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF). The results also helped catalyze a paradigm shift in how heart failure thought leaders think about the role of ejection fraction for making important distinctions among patients with heart failure.
EMPEROR-Preserved may also be the final nail in the coffin for defining patients with heart failure as having HFpEF or heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF).
This new consensus essentially throws out left ventricular ejection fraction (EF) as the key metric for matching patients to heart failure treatments. Experts have instead begun suggesting a more unified treatment approach for all heart failure patients regardless of their EF.
‘Forget about ejection fraction’
“We encourage you to forget about ejection fraction,” declared Milton Packer, MD, during discussion at a session of the annual scientific meeting of the Heart Failure Society of America. “We certainly encourage you to forget about an ejection fraction of less than 40%” as having special significance,” added Dr. Packer, a lead investigator for both the EMPEROR-Reduced and EMPEROR-Preserved trials (which researchers combined in a unified analysis with a total of 9,718 patients with heart failure called EMPEROR-Pooled), and a heart failure researcher at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.
“The 40% ejection fraction divide is artificial. It was created in 2003 as part of a trial design, but it has no physiological significance,” Dr. Packer explained. A much better way to distinguish systolic and diastolic heart failure is by strain assessment rather than by ejection fraction. “Strain is a measure of myocardial shortening, a measure of what the heart does. Ejection fraction is a measure of volume,” said Dr. Packer. “Sign me up to get rid of ejection fraction,” he added.
“Ejection fraction is not as valuable as we thought for distinguishing the therapeutic benefit” of heart failure drugs, agreed Marvin A. Konstam, MD, professor of medicine at Tufts University and chief physician executive of the CardioVascular Center of Tufts Medical Center, both in Boston, who spoke during a different session at the meeting.
“It would easier if we didn’t spend time parsing this number,” ejection fraction, commented Clyde W. Yancy, MD, professor of medicine and chief of cardiology at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago. “Wouldn’t it be easier if we said that every patient with heart failure needs to receive one agent from each of the four [pillar] drug classes, and put them in a polypill” at reduced dosages, he proposed, envisioning one potential consequence of jettisoning ejection fraction.
The four pillar drug classes, recently identified as essential for patients with HFrEF but until now not endorsed for patients with HFpEF, are the sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors, such as empagliflozin (Jardiance); an angiotensin receptor blocker neprilysin inhibitor compound such as sacubitril/valsartan (Entresto); beta-blockers; and mineralocorticoid receptor antagonists such as spironolactone and eplerenone.