How can I distinguish cardiac asthma from typical bronchial asthma?

Certain clinical features of cardiac asthma, defined as congestive heart failure (CHF) associated with wheezing, may be useful in distinguishing it from bronchial asthma, particularly in older patients with COPD (1-3).

• Paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea associated with wheezing
• Presence of rales or crackles, ascites or other signs of CHF
• Poor response to bronchodilators and corticosteroids
• Formal pulmonary function test with bronchoprovocation demonstrating minimal methacholine response.

 
Cardiac asthma is not uncommon. In a prospective study of patients 65 yrs of age or older (mean age 82 yrs) presenting with dyspnea due to CHF, cardiac asthma was diagnosed in 35% of subjects. Even in non-elderly patients, cardiac asthma has been reported in 10-15% of patients with CHF (2).

 
The mechanism(s) underlying cardiac asthma is likely multifactorial. Pulmonary edema and pulmonary vascular congestion have traditionally been considered as key factors either through edema in the interstitial fluid of bronchi squeezing the bronchiolar lumen or by externally compressing the entire airway structure and the bronchiole wall. Reflex bronchoconstriction involving the vagus nerve, bronchial hyperreactivity, systemic inflammation, and airway remodeling may also play a role (1,3). 

 
Treatment of choice for cardiac asthma typically includes diuretics, nitrates and morphine, not bronchodilators or corticosteroids (1,3). 

 
Bonus Pearl: Did you know that the term “cardiac asthma” was first coined by the Scottish physician, James Hope, way back in 1832 to distinguish it from bronchial asthma!

 

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References
1. Litzinger MHJ, Aluen JKN, Cereceres R, et al. Cardiac asthma: not your typical asthma. US Pharm. 2013;38:HS-12-HS-18. https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/cardiac-asthma-not-your-typical-asthma
2. Jorge S, Becquemin MH, Delerme S, et al. Cardiac asthma in elderly patients: incidence, clinical presentation and outcome. BMC Cardiovascular Disorders 2007;7:16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17498318
3. Tanabe T, Rozycki HJ, Kanoh S, et al. Cardiac asthma: new insights into an old disease. Expert Rev Respir Med 2012;6(6), 00-00. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23234454

 

How can I distinguish cardiac asthma from typical bronchial asthma?

Should I avoid intravenous furosemide for management of ascites in my patient with cirrhosis?

Generally, yes! IV furosemide for treatment of ascites in patients with cirrhosis should be avoided for couple of reasons.

First, in contrast to patients with congestive heart failure in whom the absorption of oral furosemide may be impaired due to bowel wall edema, patients with cirrhosis and ascites appear to absorb oral furosemide efficiently, similarly to that of control patients.1   Another reason for avoiding IV furosemide in this setting is the possibility of a significant drop in the GFR with its attendant rise in BUN and serum creatinine, clinically resembling a picture of hepatorenal syndrome.2

Although the mechanism of the adverse effect of IV furosemide on the renal function of patients with cirrhosis is not totally clear, furosemide-induced vasoconstriction, not intrasvascular volume depletion due to sodium wasting, seems to play an important role.3

Nevertheless, certain situations may necessitate the use of IV furosemide in patients with cirrhosis and ascites, such as in single doses to help identify patients who will be responsive to diuretics, and in patients in need of prompt diuresis such as those with concurrent pulmonary edema. In a somewhat reassuring study, a single dose of 80 mg IV furosemide reliably identified cirrhotic patients with ascites responsive to diuretics, without a significant risk of deteriorating renal function.3

 

References

  1. Sawhney VK, Gregory PB, Swezey SE, et al. Furosemide disposition in cirrhotic patients. Gastroenterology 1981; 81: 1012-16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7286579
  2. Daskalopoulos G, Laffi G, Morgan T, et al. Immediate effects of furosemide on renal hemodynamics in chronic liver disease with ascites. Gastroenterology 1987;92:1859-1863. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3569760
  3. Spahr, L., Villeneuve, J., Tran, H. K., & Pomier-Layrargues, G. Furosemide-induced natriuresis as a test to identify cirrhotic patients with refractory ascites. Hepatology 2001;33:28-31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11124817

 

Contributed by Sam Miller, MD, Mass General Hospital, Boston, MA.

 

Should I avoid intravenous furosemide for management of ascites in my patient with cirrhosis?

What is the significance of Terry’s or Lindsay’s nails in my hospitalized patient?

Terry’s nails were first described in 1954 in patients with hepatic cirrhosis (prevalence 82%, majority related to alcohol abuse) (1). Since then, they have been reported in a variety of other conditions, including adult-onset diabetes mellitus (AODM), chronic congestive heart failure, chronic renal failure, pulmonary tuberculosis, and Reiter’s syndrome (2).

A 1984 study found Terry’s nails in 25% of hospitalized patients (3).  In this study, cirrhosis, chronic congestive heart failure, and AODM were significantly associated with Terry’s nails, while pulmonary tuberculosis, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer were not. The presence of Terry’s nails may be particularly concerning in patients 50 y of age or younger as it increases the relative risk of cirrhosis, chronic congestive heart failure or AODM by 5-fold (18-fold for cirrhosis alone) in this age group (3).

Terry’s nails should be distinguished from Lindsay’s nails or “half and half” nails. Although both nail abnormalities are characterized by an opaque white proximal portion, Terry’s nails have a thinner distal pink to brown transverse band no more than 3 mm wide (3) (Fig 1), while the same anomaly is wider and occupies 20%-60% of the nail bed in Lindsay’s nails (Fig 2). Of interest, Lindsay’s nails have been reported in up to 40% of patients with chronic kidney disease (4,5).

References

1. Terry R. White nails in hepatic cirrhosis. Lancet 1954;266:757-59. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13153107 
2. Nia AM, Ederer S, Dahlem K, et al. Terry’s nails: a window to systemic diseases. Am J Med 2011;124:603-604. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21683827 
3. Holzberg M, Walker HK. Terry’s nails: revised definitions and new correlations. Lancet 1984;1(8382):896-99. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6143196 
4. Pitukweerakul S, Pilla S. Terry’s nails and Lindsay’s nails: Two nail abnormalities in chronic systemic diseases. J Gen Intern Med 31;970.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4945547/ 
5. Gagnon AL, Desai T. Dermatological diseases in patients with chronic kidney disease 2013;2:104-109.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3891143/

Figure 1. Terry’s nails in a patient with end-stage liver disease

Figure 2. Lindsay’s nails in a patient with chronic kidney disease

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What is the significance of Terry’s or Lindsay’s nails in my hospitalized patient?

Why isn’t my patient with congestive heart failure or end-stage liver disease losing weight despite being on diuretic therapy? Is the diuretic dose too low, or is the salt intake too high?

When a patient with congestive heart failure (CHF) or end-stage liver disease (ESLD) doesn’t respond as expected to diuretic therapy, measurement of urinary sodium (Na) can be helpful.

In low effective arterial blood volume states (eg, CHF and ESLD) aldosterone secretion is high, resulting in high urine potassium (K) and low urine Na concentrations. However, in the presence of diuretics, urinary Na excretion should rise.

Patients undergoing active diuresis are often restricted to a 2 g (88 mEq) Na intake/day, with ~10 mEq excreted via non-urinary sources (primarily stool), and ~ 78 mEq excreted in the urine to “break even” — that is, to maintain the same weight.

Although historically measured 1, a 24-hour urine Na and K collection is tedious, making spot urine Na/K ratio more attractive as a potential proxy.  Approximately 90% of patients who achieve a urinary Na/K ratio ≥1 will have a urinary Na excretion ≥78 mEq/day — that is to say, they are sensitive to the diuretic and will have a stable or decreasing weight at the current dose. 2,3

Urine Na/K may be interpreted as follows:

  • ≥1 and losing weight suggests effective diuretic dose, adherent to low Na diet
  • ≥1 and rising weight suggests effective diuretic dose, non-adherent to low Na diet
  • <1 and rising weight suggests ineffective diuretic dose

The “ideal” Na/K ratio as relates to responsiveness to diuretics has ranged from 1.0 to 2.5.4 In acutely decompensated heart failure patients on spironolactone, a K-sparing diuretic, Na/K ratio >2 at day 3 of hospitalization may be associated with improved outcome at 180 days. 5

Remember also that if the patient’s clinical syndrome is not correlating well with the ratio, it’s always a good idea to proceed to a 24-hour urine collection.

 

References

  1. Runyon B. Refractory Ascites. Semin Liver Dis. Semin Liver Dis. 1993 Nov;13(4):343-51. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8303315
  2. Stiehm AJ, Mendler MH, Runyon BA. Detection of diuretic-resistance or diuretic-sensitivity by spot urine Na/K ratios in 729 specimens from cirrhotics with ascites: approximately 90 percent accuracy as compared to 24-hr urine Na excretion (abstract). Hepatology 2002; 36: 222A.
  3. da Silva OM, Thiele GB, Fayad L. et al. Comparative study of spot urine Na/K ratio and 24-hour urine sodium in natriuresis evaluation of cirrhotic patients with ascites. GE J Port Gastroenterol 2014;21:15-20 https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/4dc3/4d18d202c6fa2b30a1f6563baab80d877921.pdf
  4. El-Bokl M, Senousy, B, El-Karmouty K, Mohammed I, Mohammed S, Shabana S, Shelby H. Spot urinary sodium for assessing dietary sodium restriction in cirrhotic ascites. World J Gastroenterol 2009; 15:3631. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2721236/
  5. Ferreira JP, Girerd N, Medeiros PB, et al. Spot urine sodium excretion as prognostic marker in acutely decompensated heart failure: the spironolactone effect. Clin Res Cardiol 2016;105:489-507. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26615605

 

Contributed by Alyssa Castillo, MD, with valuable input from Sawalla Guseh, MD, both from Mass General Hospital, Boston, MA.

Why isn’t my patient with congestive heart failure or end-stage liver disease losing weight despite being on diuretic therapy? Is the diuretic dose too low, or is the salt intake too high?

My patient with acute exacerbation of heart failure and pulmonary edema also has pneumonia. How often do heart failure and pneumonia coexist?

More often than you might think! The relationship between pneumonia and heart failure (HF) appears bidirectional with pneumonia precipitating heart failure (HF) and HF predisposing to it.

Although It’s often quoted that acute respiratory tract infection accounts for 3-16% of patients hospitalized with decompensated heart failure (HF) (based primarily on small observational studies),1 a 2016 large prospective study involving nearly 100,000 HF admission from 305 US hospitals has reported “pneumonia/respiratory process” as the most common precipitating clinical factor, present in 28.2% of cases (arrhythmia and medication noncompliance came in as 2nd and 3rd).2

Interestingly, the same study reported that pneumonia/respiratory process was most prevalent among patients with preserved (≥50%) ejection fraction (EF) compared to those with borderline ( 40%-49%) or reduced (<40%) EF (33% vs 30% vs 24%, respectively). 2

Pulmonary edema may in turn predispose to bacterial pneumonia through adverse effects of edema fluid on lung bacterial defense mechanisms and establishment of a culture medium for bacterial growth by the presence of fluid in the alveolar space.3

So don’t be surprised if you have to treat for both!

 

References

  1. Thomsen RW, Kasatpibal N, Riis A, et al. The impact of pre-existing heart failure on pneumonia prognosis: Population-based cohort study. J Gen Intern Med 2008;23:1407-13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18574639
  2. Kapoor JR, Kapoor R, Ju C, et al. Precipitating clinical factors, heart failure characterization, and outcomes in patients hospitalized with heart failure with reduced, borderline, and preserved ejection fraction. JACC 2016;4:464-72. https://www.scholars.northwestern.edu/en/publications/precipitating-clinical-factors-heart-failure-characterization-and 
  3. Harris GD, Woods DE, Fine R, et al. The effect of intraalveolar fluid on lung bacterial clearance. Lung 1980; 158;91-100 Harris GD, Woods DE, Fine R, et al. The effect of intraalveolar fluid on lung bacterial clearance. Lung 1980; 158;91-100. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02713708

 

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My patient with acute exacerbation of heart failure and pulmonary edema also has pneumonia. How often do heart failure and pneumonia coexist?

Does methotrexate reduce the risk of cardiovascular events in patients with rheumatoid arthritis?

The weight of the evidence suggests that methotrexate reduces the overall risk of cardiovascular events (CVEs)—including myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, stroke, and or major adverse cardiac events—in RA patients (RR 0.72, 95% CI 0.57-0.91)1.

Aside from its effect on controlling systemic inflammation, methotrexate has also been shown to increase HDL and reduce total cholesterol/HDL ratio in patients with RA compared with treated non-RA controls2. In vitro, methotrexate appears to activate mechanisms involved in reverse transport of cholesterol out of the cell to the circulation for eventual excretion3. Not surprisingly then, methotrexate has also been reported to decrease atherosclerotic plaque burden measured by carotid artery intima-media thickness2.

We tend to think of RA as a disease that primarily causes arthritis but its effects may extend far beyond the joints. Patients with RA have an increased risk of cardiovascular deaths compared to the general population4, likely due to a variety of factors, including accelerated atherosclerosis secondary to chronic inflammation. At baseline, RA patients also have an unfavorable lipid profile with decreased HDL and higher total cholesterol/HDL ratio.

Fun Final Fact: Did you know that methotrexate is on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines (April 2015) not only as a cancer drug but for treatment of RA as well5?

References:

  1. Roubille C, Richer V, Starnino T, McCourt C, McFarlane A, Fleming P, Siu S, Kraft J, Lynde C, Pope J, Gulliver W, Keeling S, Dutz J, Bessette L, Bissonnette R, Haraoui B. The effects of tumour necrosis factor inhibitors, methotrexate, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids on cardiovascular events in rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Rheum Dis. 2015;74:480-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25561362
  2. Georgiadis AN, Voulgari PV, Argyropoulou MI, Alamanos Y, Elisaf M, Tselepis AD, Drosos AA. Early treatment reduces the cardiovascular risk factors in newly diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis patients. Semin Arthritis Rheum 2008;38:13-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18191989
  3. Reiss AB, Carsons SE, Anwar K, Rao S, Edelman SD, Zhang H, Fernandez P, Cronstein BN, Chan ES. Atheroprotective effects of methotrexate on reverse cholesterol transport proteins and foam cell transformation in human THP-1 monocyte/macrophages. Arthritis Rheum 2008;58:3675-83. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19035488
  4. Aviña-Zubieta JA, Choi HK, Sadatsafavi M, Etminan M, Esdaile JM, Lacaille D. Risk of cardiovascular mortality in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a meta-analysis of observational studies. Arthritis Rheum 2008; 59:1690-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19035419
  5. WHO Model List of Essential Medicines (April 2015). http://www.who.int/medicines/publications/essentialmedicines/en/

 

Contributed by Brian Li, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School

Does methotrexate reduce the risk of cardiovascular events in patients with rheumatoid arthritis?

My patient just had a run of ventricular tachycardia (VT) at a rate of 120 beats/min lasting 18 seconds without any symptoms. Does this arrhythmia meet the criteria for nonsustained VT (NSVT) and what is its significance?

Although NSVT is often defined as 3 (sometimes 5) or more consecutive beats arising below the atrioventricular node with a heart rate >100 beats/min lasting <30 s, this definition is not universal. Other definitions of NSVT include >120 beats/min using a duration cutoff of 15 s,  or at times no strictly defined diagnostic criteria1.  

NSVT can be observed in a variety of individuals, ranging from apparently healthy people to those with significant heart disease.  Whether NSVT provokes sustained life-threatening arrhythmias or is merely a surrogate marker of a more severe underlying cardiac pathology is unclear in most clinical settings 1

Because our patient  meets the generally observed criteria for NSVT, we should exclude an underlying occult pathology responsible for the arrhythmia and, in the case of known cardiac disease,  risk-stratify the patient for appropriate management2.  

The prognostic significance of NSVT is heavily influenced by the type and severity of underlying heart disease.  Patients with NSVT in the setting of >24 h post-acute myocardial infarction and those with chronic ischemic heart disease with left ventricular ejection fraction <40%  have a less desirable prognosis2. The management of patients with NSVT is generally aimed at treating the underlying heart disease.

References

  1. Katritsis DG, Zareba W, Camm AJ. Nonsustained ventricular tachycardia. J Am Coll Cardiol 2012;60:1993-2004. http://www.onlinejacc.org/content/60/20/1993
  2. Katritisis DG, Camm AJ. Nonsustained ventricular tachycardia: where do we stand? Eur Heart J 2004;25:1093-1099. https://academic.oup.com/eurheartj/article/25/13/1093/465312
My patient just had a run of ventricular tachycardia (VT) at a rate of 120 beats/min lasting 18 seconds without any symptoms. Does this arrhythmia meet the criteria for nonsustained VT (NSVT) and what is its significance?

What is the significance of hyponatremia in my patient with acute decompensated congestive heart failure (ADCHF)?

Hyponatremia, defined as a serum sodium <135 meq/L, is observed in ~20% of patients hospitalized with ADCHF, and is often dilutional, not “depletional” (ie, not associated with hypovolemia) in this condition1.

In ADCHF, hyponatremia is primarily caused by the production of arginine vasopressin (AVP) (also known as anti-diuretic hormone, or ADH) as a result of decreased perfusion pressures in the aortic arch and renal afferent arterioles, and increased thirst due to the activation of the renin-angiotensin system.  Hyponatremia correlates with the severity of ADCHF and adverse clinical outcomes2.   

 A common approach to dilutional hyponatremia in ADCHF is fluid restriction. Other potential therapies include angiotension converting enzyme inhibitors (by increasing cardiac output and decreasing thirst), loop diuretics (by reducing water reabsorption in the renal distal tubule), and AVP antagonists (eg, tolvapatan, satavaptan)1,3.  Otherwise, in the absence of symptoms, no specific therapy is generally indicated for serum sodium levels ≥ 120mEq/L.

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References 

  1. Verbrugge FH, Steels P, Grieten L, Nijst P, Tang WHW, Mullens W. Hyponatremia in acute decompensated heart failure: Depletion versus dilution. J Am Coll Cardiol 2015;65:480-92. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S073510971407394X?via%3Dihub
  2. Leier CV, Dei Cas L, Metra M. Clinical relevance and management of the major electrolyte abnormalities in congestive heart failure: hyponatremia, hypokalemia, and hypomagnesemia. Am Heart J. 1994;128:564.  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0002870394906335
  3. Schrier RW, Gross P, Gheorghiade M, Berl T, Verbalis JG, Czerwiec FS, Orlandi C, SALT Investigators. Tolvaptan, a selective oral vasopressin V2-receptor antagonist, for hyponatremia. N Engl J Med. 2006;355:2099. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17105757

 

Contributed by Ricardo Ortiz, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School

What is the significance of hyponatremia in my patient with acute decompensated congestive heart failure (ADCHF)?

My elderly patient with acute heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF) has a low serum albumin. Can hypoalbuminemia be associated with HFpEF?

Absolutely! As early as 1959, Guyton and Lindsey demonstrated the importance of serum colloid osmotic pressure in the pathogenesis of pulmonary edema1.

Specifically, they found that in dogs with normal plasma protein concentrations fluid began to transudate into the lungs when the left atrial pressure rose above an average of 24 mm Hg vs only 11 mm Hg when plasma protein concentration was reduced by about 50%.

Fast forward to 2003, Arques et al studied serum albumin and pulmonary artery wedge pressures in 4 groups of patients: acute HFpEF, heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF), acute dyspnea from pulmonary origin and normal controls2.   Patients with HFpEF were significantly more likely to have hypoalbuminemia , compared to those with HFrEF, pulmonary disease or normal controls.  The main cause of hypoalbuminemia in the HFpEF was malnutrition in 77% and/or sepsis in 41% of patients.   Hypoalbuminemia was inversely related to age and plasma C-reactive protein.

Perhaps, we should pay more attention the nutritional status of our patients with HFpEF!

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References

  1. Guyton AC, Lindsey AW. Effect of elevated left atrial pressure and decreased plasma protein concentration on the development of pulmonary edema. Circ Res 1959;7: 649-657.
  2. Arquès S, Ambrosi P, Gélisse R et al. Hypoalbuminemia in elderly patients with acute diastolic heart failure. J Am Coll Card 2003;42:712-16. http://www.onlinejacc.org/content/42/4/71                                                                                                    
My elderly patient with acute heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF) has a low serum albumin. Can hypoalbuminemia be associated with HFpEF?

What is the mechanism of pericardial effusion formation in heart failure?

Pericardial space contains 15-35 ml of fluid under physiologic conditions (1). Pericardial formation is dependent on the ultrafiltration of plasma across epidcardial and parietal pericardial capillaries a well as interstitial fluid traversing the epicardium, and is removed by the lymphatic system (1). The prevalence of pericardial fluid in congestive heart failure is 12-20%.

Experimental animal data and observations from human studies suggest that pericardial effusion in heart failure only occurs in the setting of high right-sided filling pressures. In a retrospective study of patients with primarily left ventricular dysfunction with or without pericardial effusion, enlarged right ventricular diastolic internal dimension on echocardiography was strongly correlated with the presence of pericardial effusion while systolic and diastolic internal dimensions were not (2).  Thus in patients with heart failure and pericardial effusion, high right-sided filling pressures should be suspected.

 

References

  1. Natanzon A, Kronzon I. Pericardial and pleural effusions in congestive heart failure—anatomical, pathophysiologic, and clinical considerations. Am J Med Sci 2009;338:211-216. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19574887
  2. Kessler KM, Rodriguez D, Rahim A, et al. Echocardiographic observations regarding pericardial effusions associated with cardiac disease. Chest 1980;78:736-40. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7428456
What is the mechanism of pericardial effusion formation in heart failure?