ACC Issues Decision Pathway for Hypertriglyceridemia Management

Ted Bosworth

July 29, 2021

A new decision pathway for the management of hypertriglyceridemia, prompted by a large and growing body of evidence that elevated triglycerides to a targetable risk factor for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), has been issued by the American College of Cardiology.

According to the chairman of the writing committee, Salim S. Virani, MD, PhD, the recommendations amplify and update more than alter the hypertriglyceridemia treatment recommendations in the 2018 joint multisociety blood cholesterol guidelines issued in 2018.

This decision pathway, however, is focused on triglycerides alone.

"The previous guidelines included a section on strategies for addressing hypertriglyceridemia to reduce ASCVD risk, but this new decision pathway builds on the recommendations with more details and with additional information," explained Virani, professor of medicine in the section of cardiovascular research, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston.

Within this newly published document, the definitions of hypertriglyceridemia and rationale for treatment are followed by detailed algorithms for four specific patient groups with varying triglyceride levels:

  • Adults with ASCVD.

  • Adults at least 40 years of age with diabetes but no ASCVD.

  • Adults at least 20 years of age with no ASCVD or diabetes.

  • Adults at least 20 years of age with severe hypertriglyceridemia.

"In the design of these algorithms, we made an active effort to make them suitable for use by primary care physicians as well as specialists," said Virani. Despite "lots of boxes and arrows," the flowcharts for each of these patient groups permit clinicians to follow the decision pathway without having to reread the text.

The common emphasis in all four algorithms is to begin by evaluating patients for secondary causes of hypertriglyceridemia, such as multifactorial chylomicronemia syndrome and other diseases associated with elevated triglycerides. The next steps, also common to all algorithms, are to optimize diet and lifestyle changes that lower triglycerides, optimize glycemic control, and optimize statin therapy.

"Although commonly recognized for their impact on LDL-C, statins also provide a 10%-30% dose-dependent reduction in triglycerides in patients with elevated levels," the guidelines state. Statins are considered a fundamental step to secondary prevention of ASCVD regardless of triglyceride levels.

Once treatable causes or contributors to hypertriglyceridemia have been addressed, lifestyle interventions and statin therapy have been optimized, pharmacologic therapy directed specifically at control of hypertriglyceridemia "can be considered" in those at highest risk of ASCVD events, but Virani explained that this is never an early or first step in control of elevated triglycerides.

"The entire working group agreed that lifestyle interventions should be highlighted front and center before considering any other intervention," Virani explained.

Pharmacologic therapy for hypertriglyceridemia is not ignored. Prescription omega-3 fatty acid products are preferred over nonprescription dietary supplements, which may vary in quality and purity. But these products, rather than a standalone solution, are best applied within the context of efforts to improve diet, lower body weight, and increase physical activity.

Several trials have associated ethyl ester and carboxylic acid preparations with meaningful reductions in triglycerides, but these drugs, including icosapent ethyl (IPE), are not without adverse events. In the pivotal REDUCE-IT trial, IPE was linked with an increased risk of atrial fibrillation relative to placebo.

IPE is "the best option" and the only therapy with an indication for reduction in ASCVD risk, according to Virani, but he explained that safety concerns led the authors of the new decision pathway to employ cautious language in regard to its use, suggesting that it be "considered" in high-risk patients after other methods of lowering triglycerides have been optimized.

In the algorithm for the four different risk groups, the decision pathways follow stratifications for different levels of hypertriglyceridemia (defined under fasting and nonfasting conditions) and also for specific levels of LDL cholesterol. ASCVD risk assessment is also a factor in determining the next steps along the decision pathway.

According to Michael Davidson, MD, director of the lipid clinic at the University of Chicago, the emphasis on lifestyle changes for hypertriglyceridemia and the prudent language in regard to pharmacologic therapy is appropriate.

"In light of the controversies regarding the REDUCE-IT trial, the writing committee has done a nice job with providing useful guidance regarding the utilization of icosapent ethyl in higher risk patients," Davidson said.

Calling the ACC decision pathway "a welcome enhancement of the 2018 ACC/AHA cholesterol guidelines," Davidson praised the way in which the limitations of the evidence regarding pharmacologic therapies were explained.

"Most importantly, this decision pathway helps clinicians appreciate that hypertriglyceridemia can be best managed with lifestyle changes and addressing potential secondary causes," Davidson said.

Virani reports no potential conflicts of interest. Davidson reports financial relationships with multiple pharmaceutical companies including those making or pursuing therapies for control of hypertriglyceridemia.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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