Category Archives: Epidemiology (1a)

Epidemiology – Attributable Risk (including AR% PAR + PAR%)

These are really important measures for public health as they indicate the magnitude of risk in absolute terms.

Attributable Risk (AR)

  • AR is the portion of disease incidence *in the exposed* that is due to the exposure.
  • Therefore = the incidence of a disease *in the exposed* that would be eliminated if the exposure were eliminated
  • Calculation of AR = risk(incidence) in exposed – risk(incidence) in non-exposed which provides the risk difference

Attributable Risk % (proportion or fraction)

  • AR is sometimes expressed as a proportion (%) of the disease incidence in the exposed – this is the proportion of disease incidence *in the exposed* that is due to the exposure.
  • Therefore it is the proportion of the disease incidence *in the exposed* that would be eliminated if exposure were eliminated
  • Calculation of AR% = AR / risk(incidence) in exposed x 100%
  • …When data on disease incidence is not available we can use the RR…
  • Calculation of AR% = (RR-1) / RR x 100%

Population Attributable Risk (PAR)

  • This is a similar measure to AR except it is concerned not with the excess rate of disease *in the exposed* but the excess rate of disease *in the population* (compared with the rate of disease in the exposed group)
  • PAR is the proportion of the disease incidence *in the population* (i.e. exposed and non-exposed) that is due to the exposure
  • Therefore it is the disease incidence *in the population* that would be eliminated if the exposure were eliminated
  • Calculation of PAR = risk(incidence) in population – risk(incidence) in non-exposed

Population Attributable Risk % (porportion or fraction)

  • PAR% is the proportion of disease incidence *in the population* (i.e. exposed and non-exposed) that is due to the exposure
  • Therefore it is the % of disease incidence *in the population* that would be eliminated if the exposure were eliminated
  • Calculation of PAR% = PAR / risk(incidence) in population
  • …When data on disease incidence is not available we can use the RR…
  • Calculation of PAR% = prevalence in exposed population x (RR-1) / [1+ prevalence in exposed population (RR-1)]

PAR% = important indice in prioritising population interventions

  • However, it assumes that all the association between disease and exposure is causal… and PAR varies according to how common an exposure to the risk factor is in the population
  • AR + PAR are hypothetical constructs… there is no temporal depth
  • Important for the counterfactual to be defined in order to explain their meaning (e.g. if smoking = lung cancer, no smoking = no lung cancer)
  • Based on logic of risk subtraction (rather than risk explanation)

Epidemiology – Positive and Negative Predictive Value (PPV + NPV)

Strongly related to the concepts of sensitivity and specificity are the concepts of PPV and NPV.  These terms are quite similar (and can be confused) so it’s important to remember that sensitivity and specificity measure the accuracy of the test (not any relation to the disease or population), whereas PPV and NPV measure the proportion of people whose test results reflect their health status and therefore *are* affected by the disease prevalence… it’s a sublte, but important distinction! (Especially to diffrentiate what is being asked of you in an exam…)

Definition – Positive Predictive Value (PPV)

  • PPV = the proportion of individuals who test positively (a+b) AND trully have the disease (a)
  • Formulae = a / (a+b)
  • *Importnat* PPV increases with high prevalence of disease

Definition – Negative Predictive Value (NPV)

  • NPV = the proportion of individuals who test negatively (c+d) AND trully do not have the disease (d)
  • Formulae = d / (c+d)
  • *Important* NPV descreases with high prevalence of disease

Epidemiology – Sensitivity and Specificity

Sensitivity and specificity are two statistical measures of test performance.  The origins of these measures comes (unsurprisingly) from screening tests for diseases whereby the purpose of the test is to differentiate between those who do and do not have the disease (so that appropriate diagnosis and treatment can occur).

The key thing here is to acknowledge that tests are rarely 100% accurate… but the purpose of Sensitivity and Specificity is to identify how accurate tests are in their discrimination between diseased and non-diseased individuals.

Definition – Sensitivity

  • Sensitivity identifies the proportion of individuals who truly DO have the disease AND are given a positive test result
  • I find it helpful to remember: sensiTivity = sensitive to the Truth (i.e. do have disease + do have positive result)

Formulae – Sensitivity

The trusty 2×2 table (on the right) always have the outcome along the top (disease, death…etc) and the intervention or exposure on the side (in this case – the test).

We want to know what proportion of individuals who have the disease (a+c) were given a positive test result (a), therefore…

  • Sensitivity = a / (a+c)

Definition – Specificity

  • Specificity identifies the proportion of individuals who truly DO NOT have the disease AND were given the correct negative test result
  • I find it helpful to remember: specificity = speciFies the False (i.e. do not have disease and do not have positive test result

Formulae – Specificity

Back to the trusty 2×2 table…

This time we want to know what proportion of people who do not have the disease (b+d) were given the correct negative test result (d), therefore…

  • Specificity = d / (b+d)

Interpretation – So what does it mean…?

Calculating sensitivity and specificity help to understand how accurate the tests are at providing the correct result.  This is really important information for understanding how much harm individuals could be subjected to through taking the test.

For example, in screening harm can be receiving a false positive (b – you get a positive test result, but you don’t have the disease) or a false negative (c – you have a negative test result, but unknowingly you do have the disease)… these psychological implications for the individual should never be taken lightly, and therefore it is important to minimise such harms by a) explaining the potential risks to all participating individuals and b) using tests which are as accurate as possible

Ideally a test would be 100% sensitive and specific.  Yet in reality, there is usually a trade-ff between the two properties.  The cut-off point (or ‘criterion for positivity’) depends on the consequences of missing positives and falsely classifying negatives.  For example

Sensitivity is often prioritised when…

  • Disease is serious (we want to identify as many true cases as possible)
  • Treatment is effective + available (we want to identify + treat as many cases as possible)
  • High risk of infectivity if individuals are not treated (we want to minimise harm to others)
  • Subsequent test is cheap and low-risk

Specificity is often prioritised when…

  • Treatment is unpalatable (we only want to treat those we are confident have the disease and would benefit from the treatment)
  • Subsequent test is expensive and risky

So sensitivity and specificity is all about how accurate is the test at discriminating those who are healthy from those with the disease.

Epidemiology – Relative Risk (RR)

Firstly, a few points need to be made regarding what is meant by risk

  • Risk = the statistical likelihood of having an adverse event (e.g. illness or death) following exposure to some factor
  • Risk is a measure of association NOT causation… it cannot tell us about the likelihood of harm

Definition

Relative Risks (RR) are used to compare the risks of different groups.   Defined as:

The probability that a member of an exposed group will develop disease relative to the probability that a member of an unexposed group will develop the same disease

  • As such RR measure the strength of association between an the risk of exposure and an outcome, compared to the risk of non-exposure and the same outcome.
  • RR can be assessed using 3 calculations: risk ratio, rate ratio and odds ratio
  • Risk calculations require all knowledge of those exposure and unexpose
  • It is the risk of developing the disease (or outcome) relative to the exposure

Risk Ratio

  • Risk Ratio = (risk of disease in the exposed) / (risk of disease in the non-exposed)
  • Requires complete follow-up of data – calculation of risk is based on the population at risk at the start of the study
  • Risk Ratio doesn’t account for time to event between groups, only final outcome
  • Risk ratio is most appropriate to assess protective effects of an intervention (e.g. vaccinations)

Rate Ratio

  • Rate Ratio = (rate of disease in the exposed) / (rate of disease in the non-exposed)
  • Calculation of rate is based on the total person-years at risk during the study, therefore reflecting the changing poplation at risk
  • Preferential choice for longitudinal studies as it incorporates changes over time

Odds Ratio

  • Odds Ratio = (odds of disease in exposed) / (odds of disease in the non-exposed)
  • Always the measure of association for case-control studies
  • For rare diseases (or diseases with long latency periods) the OR can be an approximate measure to the RR (relative risk)
  • Doesn’t require denominator (i.e. total number in population) unlike measuring risk
  • For more info, visit my blog post on Odds Ratios here

Disadvantages

  • RR is a measure of association, as such as cannot infer causation from any of these calculations
  • RR assesses the risk of developing disease relative to exposure… *but* gives no indication of the magnitude of the excess risk in absolute terms.  For this we need to understand the Attributable Risk
  • Can sometimes be confusing deciding which RR calculation to use when… best advice is to think about a) what is the study design? (OR is always used for case-control) and b) has follow-up data been completed for all participants? (Yes = risk ratio, No = rate ratio)

 NB: I couldn’t find any ‘risk’ appropriate pictures, so here are some dogs having fun instead.  Enjoy!

Epidemiology – Numbers Needed to Treat (NNT)

Definition

NNT = the number of patients that need to be treated in order for 1 extra patient to benefit

Alternatives to NNT include:

  • Numbers Needed to Screen (NNS = No. needed to be screened for 1 to benefit)
  • Numbers Needed to Harm (NNH = No. needed to be exposed to a risk factor for 1 to be harmed)

Formulae

  • NNT = 1/ARR
  • Absolute Risk Reduction (ARR) is calculated by the difference between the rate of event in controls and the rate of event in cases = (a/a+c) – (b/b+d)
  • NNTs should always be reported with 95% Confidence Intervals for interpretation

Interpretation

  • The lower the NNT the better.
  • E.g. Drug FAB helps prevent strokes and has an NNT of 1.  By treating Bob with FAB this should prevent him having a stroke.  On the otherhand, drug BAD has an NNT of 50, so you would have to treat 50 Bobs in order to prevent one stroke.
  • If the treatment or exposure if harmful (i.e. result is a negative number) the omit the sign and measure is renamed as NNH

Advantages

  • Useful to communicate benefit and harm – easy to understand (risk communication)
  • NNTs can be used either for summarising the results of trials
  • A clinically useful measure of the relative benefit of an active treatment over a control (better than RR or OR)
  • Takes into account the frequency of the outcome – thus reflects the ublic health impact of the intervention

Disadvantages

  • Cannot be used for performing a meta-analysis. Pooled NNTs derived from meta-analyses can be seriously misleading because the baseline risk often varies appreciably between the trials
  • Do not compare NNTs for different therapies *unless* the baseline risks of the disease are similar…

For further info, check out http://www.thennt.com/the-nnt-explained/

Epidemiology – Odds Ratio (OR)

Definition

The Odds Ratio is a measure of association which compares the odds of disease of those exposed to the odds of disease those unexposed.

Formulae

  • OR = (odds of disease in exposed) / (odds of disease in the non-exposed)

Example

I often think food poisoning is a good scenario to consider when interpretting ORs:  Imagine a group of 20 friends went out to the pub – the next day a 7 were ill.  They suspect that it may have been something they ate, maybe the fish casserole… here are the numbers:

Cases
(ill)
Controls
(not ill)
Total
Exposed
(ate fish)
5 3 8
Unexposed
(didn’t eat fish)
2 10 12
7 13 20
  • Odds of exposure in cases = a/c = 5/2 = 2.5
  • Odds of exposure in controls = b/d = 3/10 = 0.3
  • Odds Ratio = (a/c) / (b/d) = 2.5/0.3 = 8.33

Interpretation: What does this mean?

  • OR of 1 would suggests that there is no difference between the groups; i.e. there would be no association between the suggested exposure (fish) and the outcome (being ill)
  • OR of > 1 suggests that the odds of exposure are positively associated with the adverse outcome compared to the odds of not being exposed
  • OR of < 1 suggests that the odds of exposure are negatively associated with the adverse outcomes compared to the odds of not being exposed.  Potentially, there could be a protective effect

In the example above, we can conclude that those who ate the fish casserole (exposure) were 8.3 times more likely (OR = 8.3) to be ill (outcome), compared to those who did not eat the fish casserole.  Of course this is an entirely ficticious example, and I have nothing against fish

Advantages

  • Appropriate to analyse associations between groups from case-control and prevalent (or cross-sectional) data.
  • For rare diseases (or diseases with long latency periods) the OR can be an approximate measure to the RR (relative risk)
  • Doesn’t require denominator (i.e. total number in population) unlike measuring risk
  • Good method to estimate the strength of an association between exposures and outcomes

Disadvantages

  • Association does not infer causation! *epidemiology golden rule*