Diverging associations of an intended early invasive strategy compared with actual revascularization, and outcome in patients with non-ST-segment elevation acute coronary syndrome: the problem of treatment selection bias

Alexander Hirsch, Fons Windhausen, Jan G P Tijssen, Anthonius J M Oude Ophuis, Willem J van der Giessen, P Marc van der Zee, Jan Hein Cornel, Freek W A Verheugt, Robbert J de Winter et al.
European Heart Journal 2009, 30 (6): 645-54

AIMS: In several observational studies, revascularization is associated with substantial reduction in mortality in patients with non-ST-segment elevation acute coronary syndrome (nSTE-ACS). This has strengthened the belief that routine early angiography would lead to a reduction in mortality. We investigated the association between actual in-hospital revascularization and long-term outcome in patients with nSTE-ACS included in the ICTUS trial.

METHODS AND RESULTS: The study population of the present analysis consists of ICTUS participants who were discharged alive after initial hospitalization. The ICTUS trial was a randomized, controlled trial in which 1200 patients were randomized to an early invasive or selective invasive strategy. The endpoints were death from hospital discharge until 4 year follow-up and death or spontaneous myocardial infarction (MI) until 3 years. Among 1189 patients discharged alive, 691 (58%) underwent revascularization during initial hospitalization. In multivariable Cox regression analyses, in-hospital revascularization was independently associated with a reduction in 4 year mortality and 3 year event rate of death or spontaneous MI: hazard ratio (HR) 0.59 [95% confidence interval (CI) 0.37-0.96] and 0.46 (95% CI 0.31-0.68). However, when intention-to-treat analysis was performed, no differences in cumulative event rates were observed between the early invasive and selective invasive strategies: HR 1.10 (95% CI 0.70-1.74) for death and 1.27 (95% CI 0.88-1.85) for death or spontaneous MI.

CONCLUSION: The ICTUS trial did not show that an early invasive strategy resulted in a better outcome than a selective invasive strategy in patients with nSTE-ACS. However, similar to retrospective analyses from observational studies, actual revascularization was associated with lower mortality and fewer MI. Whether an early invasive strategy leads to a better outcome than a selective invasive strategy cannot be inferred from the observation that revascularized patients have a better prognosis in non-randomized studies.

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