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Invited Commentary
September 30, 2020

Managing Aortic Stenosis in the Age of COVID-19: Preparing for the Second Wave

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Cardiac Surgery, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
  • 2Corrigan Minehan Heart Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
  • 3Department of Surgery, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(9):e2020368. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.20368

To state the obvious, the world is in the grip of a pandemic with profound health implications beyond mortality associated with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 itself. Its impact on the delivery of health care that would otherwise be classified as routine is profound, if subtle. Cardiovascular conditions requiring inpatient procedures, such as interventions to treat symptomatic aortic stenosis, are among those that are clearly lifesaving and among those contributing to a hidden mortality of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Whether one chooses to interpret the current state of the pandemic as an ongoing first wave—perhaps with a nadir in some regions—or as the quiet before a second wave, there is a clear need for tools permitting precise triage of patients by the urgency with which procedures should be performed. The studies by Ryffel et al1 from Switzerland and Ro et al2 from New York aim to help clinicians in that regard.

In the study by Ryffel and colleagues1 from Bern, Switzerland, criteria similar to those established by the American College of Cardiology and Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions consensus statement,3 namely expedited aortic valve replacement (AVR) for area of 0.6 cm2 or less or transvalvular mean gradient of 60 mm Hg of greater, recent cardiac decompensation symptoms with minimal exertion, were applied. Almost 20% of deferred patients reached the composite end point of all-cause mortality, stroke, and unplanned cardiac hospitalization with the presence of multivalve disease a risk factor. I cannot tell if the authors considered this to be evidence of success or failure, but perhaps apart from adding patients with combined valve disease to the expedited list, it looks to me like success. Most events were hospitalizations, and the only stroke was in a patient who underwent transcatheter AVR. There were no deaths, which highlights the difficulty of composite end points that include occurrences with such widely disparate implications as hospitalization and death.

In the study from New York by Ro et al,2 where the COVID-19–associated crisis in terms of limited hospital resources was much more severe, essentially all patients were deferred pending accelerating symptoms of dyspnea, angina at rest, heart failure, or syncope. This is clearly an undesirable approach, as 10% of patients had cardiac events, including urgent transcatheter AVR in 6 patients and cardiac death in 2 patients. Lower ejection fraction, associated coronary artery disease, and more advanced heart failure (New York Heart Association class III and IV) were risk factors associated with poor outcomes, suggesting that transcatheter AVR not be deferred.

Taken together, these studies1,2 provide useful guidance. First, as we have known for many years, symptomatic aortic stenosis is a life-threatening condition, and its treatment cannot be considered elective in any way. Patients with the most echocardiographically severe stenosis, clinically advanced symptoms, or comorbid coronary artery disease or lung disease belong at the head of the line. And although not addressed by the studies by Ryffel et al1 or Ro et al,2 it certainly makes sense that, all things being equal, from the patient’s standpoint transcatheter AVR is preferable to surgical AVR, given shorter hospitalization and consequent exposure of patients to COVID-19 in hospital and rehabilitation centers. This is true from the standpoint of the health care system as well, undoubtedly conserving intensive care unit and hospital beds relative to surgical AVR. Indeed, the same can be said of proceeding with appropriately expedited procedures even if a second wave of COVID-19 hits.

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Article Information

Published: September 30, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.20368

Open Access: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the CC-BY License. © 2020 Sundt TM. JAMA Network Open.

Corresponding Author: Thoralf M. Sundt, MD, Cox 652, Division of Cardiac Surgery, Massachusetts General Hospital, 55 Fruit St, Boston, MA 02114 (tsundt@mgh.harvard.edu).

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

Ryffel  C, Lanz  J, Corpataux  N,  et al.  Mortality, stroke, and hospitalization associated with deferred vs expedited aortic valve replacement in patients referred for symptomatic severe aortic stenosis during the COVID-19 pandemic.   JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(9):e2020402. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.20402Google Scholar
Ro  R, Khera  S, Tang  GHL,  et al.  Characteristics and outcomes of patients deferred for transcatheter aortic valve replacement because of COVID-19.   JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(9):2019081. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.19801Google Scholar
Shah  PB, Welt  FGP, Mahmud  E,  et al; American College of Cardiology and the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions.  Triage considerations for patients referred for structural heart disease intervention during the COVID-19 pandemic: an ACC/SCAI position statement.   JACC Cardiovasc Interv. 2020;13(12):1484-1488. doi:10.1016/j.jcin.2020.04.001PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref