Since 1980, the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and American Heart Association (AHA) have translated scientific evidence into clinical practice guidelines (guidelines) with recommendations to improve cardiovascular health. These guidelines, which are based on systematic methods to evaluate and classify evidence, provide a cornerstone for quality cardiovascular care. The ACC and AHA sponsor the development and publication of guidelines without commercial support, and members of each organization volunteer their time to the writing and review efforts. Guidelines are official policy of the ACC and AHA.
Practice guidelines provide recommendations applicable to patients with or at risk of developing cardiovascular disease. The focus is on medical practice in the United States, but guidelines developed in collaboration with other organizations can have a global impact. Although guidelines may be used to inform regulatory or payer decisions, they are intended to improve patients’ quality of care and align with patients’ interests. Guidelines are intended to define practices meeting the needs of patients in most, but not all, circumstances and should not replace clinical judgment.
Management in accordance with guideline recommendations is effective only when followed by both practitioners and patients. Adherence to recommendations can be enhanced by shared decision-making between clinicians and patients, with patient engagement in selecting interventions on the basis of individual values, preferences, and associated conditions and comorbidities.
Methodology and Modernization
The ACC/AHA Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines (Task Force) continuously reviews, updates, and modifies guideline methodology on the basis of published standards from organizations, including the Institute of Medicine P-1, P-2, and on the basis of internal reevaluation. Similarly, the presentation and delivery of guidelines are reevaluated and modified on the basis of evolving technologies and other factors to facilitate optimal dissemination of information to healthcare professionals at the point of care.
Toward this goal, this guideline continues the introduction of an evolved format of presenting guideline recommendations and associated text called the “modular knowledge chunk format.” Each modular “chunk” includes a table of related recommendations, a brief synopsis, recommendation-specific supportive text, and when appropriate, flow diagrams or additional tables. References are provided at the end of the document in their respective sections. Additionally, this format will facilitate seamless updating of guidelines with focused updates as new evidence is published, as well as content tagging for rapid electronic retrieval of related recommendations on a topic of interest. This evolved approach format was instituted when this guideline was near completion; therefore, the present document represents a transitional format that best suits the text as written. Future guidelines will fully implement this format, including provisions for limiting the amount of text in a guideline.
Recognizing the importance of cost–value considerations in certain guidelines, when appropriate and feasible, an analysis of the value of a drug, device, or intervention may be performed in accordance with the ACC/AHA methodology (P-3).
To ensure that guideline recommendations remain current, new data are reviewed on an ongoing basis, with full guideline revisions commissioned in approximately 6-year cycles. Publication of new, potentially practice-changing study results that are relevant to an existing or new drug, device, or management strategy will prompt evaluation by the Task Force, in consultation with the relevant guideline writing committee, to determine whether a focused update should be commissioned. For additional information and policies regarding guideline development, we encourage readers to consult the ACC/AHA guideline methodology manual (P-4) and other methodology articles P-5, P-6, P-7, P-8.
Selection of Writing Committee Members
The Task Force strives to avoid bias by selecting experts from a broad array of backgrounds. Writing committee members represent different geographic regions, sexes, ethnicities, races, intellectual perspectives/biases, and scopes of clinical practice. The Task Force may also invite organizations and professional societies with related interests and expertise to participate as partners, collaborators, or endorsers.
Relationships With Industry and Other Entities
The ACC and AHA have rigorous policies and methods to ensure that guidelines are developed without bias or improper influence. The complete relationships with industry and other entities (RWI) policy can be found online. Appendix 1 of the present document lists writing committee members’ relevant RWI. For the purposes of full transparency, writing committee members’ comprehensive disclosure information is available online. Comprehensive disclosure information for the Task Force is also available online.
Evidence Review and Evidence Review Committees
In developing recommendations, the writing committee uses evidence-based methodologies that are based on all available data P-4, P-5, P-6, P-7. Literature searches focus on randomized controlled trials (RCTs) but also include registries, nonrandomized comparative and descriptive studies, case series, cohort studies, systematic reviews, and expert opinion. Only key references are cited.
An independent evidence review committee (ERC) is commissioned when there are 1 or more questions deemed of utmost clinical importance that merit formal systematic review. The systematic review will determine which patients are most likely to benefit from a drug, device, or treatment strategy and to what degree. Criteria for commissioning an ERC and formal systematic review include: a) the absence of a current authoritative systematic review, b) the feasibility of defining the benefit and risk in a time frame consistent with the writing of a guideline, c) the relevance to a substantial number of patients, and d) the likelihood that the findings can be translated into actionable recommendations. ERC members may include methodologists, epidemiologists, healthcare providers, and biostatisticians. The recommendations developed by the writing committee on the basis of the systematic review are marked with “SR”.
Guideline-Directed Management and Therapy
The term guideline-directed management and therapy (GDMT) encompasses clinical evaluation, diagnostic testing, and pharmacological and procedural treatments. For these and all recommended drug treatment regimens, the reader should confirm the dosage by reviewing product insert material and evaluate the treatment regimen for contraindications and interactions. The recommendations are limited to drugs, devices, and treatments approved for clinical use in the United States.
Class of Recommendation and Level of Evidence
The Class of Recommendation (COR) indicates the strength of the recommendation, encompassing the estimated magnitude and certainty of benefit in proportion to risk. The Level of Evidence (LOE) rates the quality of scientific evidence that supports the intervention on the basis of the type, quantity, and consistency of data from clinical trials and other sources.