Treatment of Pulmonary Hypertension and Sickle Cell Disease with Sildenafil Therapy (Walk-PHaSST)
Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is a progressive condition characterized by narrowing or stiffening pulmonary arterioles resulting in increased pulmonary blood pressure and reduced delivery of oxygenated blood to the body. It is a common complication of sickle cell disease and initially presents with the symptom of shortness of breath (dyspnea) on exertion. As the condition worsens, other symptoms such as dizziness, lower extremity edema, and chest pain can develop. The drug, sildenafil, works by relaxing blood vessels in the lungs which reduces pulmonary blood pressure and allows more oxygenated blood to circulate. Increased levels of oxygenated blood allows individuals with PAH to tolerate more activity, but guidelines for using sildenafil in patients with PAH and sickle cell disease were unavailable at the time of the Walk-PHaSST trial.
Participants were screened for the existence of pulmonary hypertension with a six minute walk test and a Doppler echocardiogram that assessed TRV, diastolic function, and valvular and systolic function. Subjects with TRV ≥ 2.7 m/s received further clinical evaluation for possible causes of pulmonary hypertension. Other screening data included medical history, a physical exam, and standard laboratory testing. For individuals with moderate to severe pulmonary hypertension (TRV ≥ 3.0), a cardiac catheterization was done at the baseline and week 16 data collection periods.
Subjects eligible for the main intervention trial based on screening results were randomized in a 1:1 double blind fashion to receive sildenafil or placebo for 16 weeks. Subjects received 20 mg of oral sildenafil or matching placebo 3 times daily for 6 weeks, followed by 40 mg 3 times daily for 4 weeks, followed by 80 mg 3 times daily for 6 weeks, as tolerated. Participants could also receive other therapies as needed to manage sickle cell and related complications. The primary outcome measure of the trial was change in the six minute walk test, a standard indicator of a person's heart and lung function and exercise capacity, from baseline to week 16. After completing the study treatment (or placebo), participants could choose to be part of the open-label follow-up phase of the study and continue to be assessed for up to one year.
The study was intended to screen about 1000 subjects and randomize 132 subjects, however it was terminated early due to the unforeseen increase in adverse events in participants treated with sildenafil as compared to placebo. When the study was stopped, 33 participants had completed the trial. Subjects continued to be monitored, but were instructed to taper sildenafil treatment over three to seven days.
There was no evidence that treatment with sildenafil impacted the six minute walk distance from baseline to week 16. In addition, treatment with sildenafil appeared to increase rates of hospitalization due to sickle cell disease pain.
Due to in part to the early termination of the trial, the majority of subject data was collected from the screening phase of the study (n=720), as opposed to the main intervention trial (n=74).
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