Update on ACC/AHA Valvular Heart Disease Guidelines 2020: Deep Dive into Aortic Stenosis Treatment Options

“2020 ACC/AHA Guideline for the Management of Patients with Valvular Heart Disease” was co-published in the Circulation and in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology on December 17th, 2020. In this article, I will provide the recommendations and updates from these guidelines particularly the new changes compared to the older valvular disease guideline statement from 2014 and a focused update from 2017 as it pertains to aortic stenosis. In developing these recommendations, the writing committee used the available research through March 1st, 2020. Given the explosion of trials and studies in aortic stenosis (AS) management, the guidelines serve as a one-stop-shop for clinicians to dive deep for some guidance while taking care of patients with AS.

Aortic valve Recommendations:

The major change from the previous guidelines is that for symptomatic patients with severe AS who are >80 years of age or for younger patients with a life expectancy <10 years, TAVI (transcatheter aortic valve implantation) is recommended (Class 1) while for symptomatic patients with severe AS between age 65-80 with no anatomic contraindication to transfemoral TAVI, shared decision-making is emphasized, and the recommendation is either SAVR (surgical aortic valve replacement) or TAVI (Class 1).  Timing of aortic stenosis treatment is still largely decided by symptoms; however, asymptomatic patients with severe AS and low EF <50% are considered Class 1 for treatment. Similarly asymptomatic patients with severe AS and decreased exercise tolerance, or a fall in systolic blood pressure of ≥10 mmHg from baseline to peak exercise, or very severe AS (V2 ≥5 m/s), a BNP level  >3 times normal, or serial testing shows an increase in V2 ≥0.3 m/s per year are a Class 2 indication for valve replacement. The guidelines note the evidence from low-risk PARTNER 3 and Evolut trials.

Class 1 indication for SAVR
Class 1/A: Symptomatic severe AS
Class 1/B-NR: Symptomatic low flow low gradient severe AS with reduced LV EF (left ventricular ejection fraction)
Class 1/B-NR: Symptomatic low flow low gradient severe AS with normal EF when AS is the cause of the symptoms.
Class 1/B-NR: Asymptomatic severe AS and an LVEF <50%
Class1/B-NR: Asymptomatic going for other cardiac surgery
Class 1 for  SAVR or TAVI
Class 1/A: Symptomatic severe AS patients 65 to 80 with no contraindication to TAVI either SAVR or TAVI
Class 1 for TAVI (transcatheter aortic valve implantation)
Class 1/A: Symptomatic severe AS patients >80 or for younger patients with a life expectancy <10 years, TAVI recommended
Class 1/B-NR Asymptomatic patients with age >80 years with severe AS and an LVEF<50


The guidelines put much emphasis on “shared decision making with the patient” taking into account the patient’s values and preferences and include the discussion of the risk of anticoagulation therapy and the potential need for and risk associated with aortic valve interventions. Another point to note from the guidelines is that the differences in the treatment approaches are driven by the overall risk of the patient. Risk assessment involves but is not limited to the STS(Society of Thoracic Surgeons) score. Per the new guidelines, low risk is defined by an STS score of <3%. A risk assessment also includes the determination of frailty, cardiac and other system compromises, and procedure-specific impediments. These are nicely outlined in the guidelines, and in my opinion, every general cardiologist should dive deep into these risk assessment tools to determine the risk associated with aortic valve procedural treatment accurately for an individual patient. Table 9 in the guidelines includes examples of procedure-specific risk factors for interventions not incorporated into existing risk scores. As the options for the treatment of aortic valve heart disease has broadened, the value of the multidisciplinary heart valve team and heart valve centers has become apparent and this is clearly recognized in the guidelines. Primary and comprehensive heart valve centers are defined by the expertise and treatment options offered in the management of patients with valvular heart disease.

Another point to note is that asymptomatic severe AS category, SAVR versus TAVI options are only available for patients with severe AS and low EF <50%. For other factors that indirectly identify LV decompensation or faster progression of AS like decreased exercise tolerance or a fall in systolic blood pressure of ≥10 mmHg from baseline to peak exercise or a BNP level i>3 times normal or serial testing shows an increase in V2 ≥0.3 m/s per year, SAVR is recommended in preference to TAVI.  As the level of evidence builds up for role of TAVI in an asymptomatic category, it has the potential to be truly be a game changer treatment option for AS patients.


Otto CM, Nishimura RA, Bonow RO, Carabello BA, Erwin JP 3rd, Gentile F, Jneid H, Krieger EV, Mack M, McLeod C, O’Gara PT, Rigolin VH, Sundt TM 3rd, Thompson A, Toly C. 2020 ACC/AHA guideline for the management of patients with valvular heart disease: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Joint Committee on Clinical Practice Guidelines [published online ahead of print December 17, 2020]. Circulation. doi: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000923

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”


The Key Messages from 2019 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease

The newest ACC/AHA guidelines were just published and is exclusively discusses the primary prevention of CVDs and excludes the care of patients with known atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases as they are classified as “secondary prevention.”1

Here are the most important messages from the 2019 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease.1


Promotion of healthy lifestyle.


physical fitness to promote healthy lifestyle


Prevention in patients with known cardiovascular risk factors.


high blood pressure in prevention

high blood cholesterol in prevention

overweight and obesity

prevention in type 2 diabetes

prevention with smoking


Aspirin Use

Aspirin is well established for secondary prevention of ASCVD and is widely recommended for those with existing heart disease2. As per the new guideline, most adults without a history of heart disease should not take low-dose daily aspirin to prevent a first heart attack or stroke. Alow dose daily aspirin is recommended in the following instances.

aspirin use



  1. Arnett Donna K, Blumenthal Roger S, Albert Michelle A, Buroker Andrew B, Goldberger Zachary D, Hahn Ellen J, Himmelfarb Cheryl D, Khera A, Lloyd-Jones D, McEvoy JW, Michos Erin D, Miedema Michael D, Muñoz D, Smith Sidney C, Virani Salim S, Williams Kim A, Yeboah J and Ziaeian B. 2019 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease. Circulation. 2019;0:CIR.0000000000000678.
  1. Piepoli MF, Hoes AW, Agewall S, Albus C, Brotons C, Catapano AL, Cooney MT, Corra U, Cosyns B, Deaton C, Graham I, Hall MS, Hobbs FDR, Lochen ML, Lollgen H, Marques-Vidal P, Perk J, Prescott E, Redon J, Richter DJ, Sattar N, Smulders Y, Tiberi M, van der Worp HB, van Dis I, Verschuren WMM and Binno S. 2016 European Guidelines on cardiovascular disease prevention in clinical practice: The Sixth Joint Task Force of the European Society of Cardiology and Other Societies on Cardiovascular Disease Prevention in Clinical Practice (constituted by representatives of 10 societies and by invited experts)Developed with the special contribution of the European Association for Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitation (EACPR). Eur Heart J. 2016;37:2315-2381.

Aspirin: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Last week, I was talking to one of my patients about her ischemic stroke, which led her to be admitted to the hospital. I discussed that I would be prescribing a daily aspirin along with other medications to reduce her risk of recurrent stroke. She replied, “But doc! I just read on the news that aspirin is no longer recommended to prevent heart attack and stroke.” It took me a moment to realize that she was referring to the recently released guidelines for “primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.” I explained to her the rationale, benefits, risks and evidence supporting the use of aspirin for secondary stroke prophylaxis. She felt better after our detailed conversation and agreed to initiate the medication as recommended. Later that day, I read several potentially misleading headlines on major news media websites about this new guideline. The headline on CNN1 read, “Daily aspirin to prevent heart attacks no longer recommended for older adults,” while USA Today2 reported, “Don’t take an aspirin a day to prevent heart attacks and strokes.”

The guidelines issued by the ACC now recommend against routine use of aspirin for primary cardiovascular prophylaxis in adults older than 70 years. This new recommendation is based on the ASPREE trial, published in 20183. During this trial, healthy adults older than 70 years with no prior history of cardiovascular disease were randomized to receive 100 mg aspirin or placebo. The low dose aspirin lead to a significantly higher risk of major hemorrhage without a significant benefit in terms of cardiovascular event prevention. The guidelines recommend using low dose aspirin for primary prophylaxis of cardiovascular events only in adults aged 40-70 years who are at a higher risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. The guidelines no longer recommend using the 10 year estimated ASCVD risk threshold of 10%, but in fact propose a more tailored approach to primary cardiovascular prophylaxis.  Patients at a high risk of cardiovascular disease and whose risk factors are not optimized despite maximal medical therapy may be candidates for prophylactic aspirin at low doses. Physicians should have a careful discussion of the individual risks and benefit of aspirin before prescribing a daily aspirin regimen to their patients. Aspirin should not be prescribed for primary prophylaxis to patients with an increased risk of hemorrhage, such as a history of gastrointestinal bleeding or thrombocytopenia.

These guidelines are obviously for patients without a prior history of a cardiovascular events such as an MI or ischemic stroke. There is unambiguous data that supports the use of aspirin for secondary cardiovascular prophylaxis. My patient from last week belonged to this category and I started our aspirin discussion with her by explaining this clear distinction. She understood the rationale for aspirin in her case and how the new guidelines did not apply to her. The news headlines are sometimes sensationalized which can render them misleading for the reader. The two news articles did in fact report that the guidelines refer to use of aspirin in healthy older adults with no history of heart disease or stroke. In today’s world of fast paced digital information, there is a tendency to just read the headlines and move on to the next thing. This can be very problematic if patients on aspirin for secondary prophylaxis stop taking their medication after reading these news headlines.

As healthcare professionals, it is our responsibility to tackle this kind of misinformation which can lead to potentially bad outcomes for our patients. One of the ways to do that is to enhance our presence on social media platforms which are increasingly becoming the major source of news and information for the public. The AHA Early Career Blogging Program is one such avenue which can help young healthcare professionals strengthen their digital and social media footprint. This also helps facilitate collaborative projects and ideas among healthcare professionals and can lead to improved patient outcomes, which is the ultimate goal in all our endeavors.



  1. https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/17/health/aspirin-heart-disease-guidelines/index.html
  2. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2019/03/18/aspirin-prevent-heart-attacks-strokes-doctors/3199831002/
  3. N Engl J Med 2018; 379:1509-1518 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1805819