Measures of effect: relative risks, odds ratios, risk difference, and 'number needed to treat'

Kidney Int. 2007 Oct;72(7):789-91. doi: 10.1038/ Epub 2007 Jul 25.


Epidemiological studies aim at assessing the relationship between exposures and outcomes. Clinicians are interested in knowing not only whether a link between a given exposure (e.g. smoking) and a certain outcome (e.g. myocardial infarction) is statistically significant, but also the magnitude of this relationship. The 'measures of effect' are indexes that summarize the strength of the link between exposures and outcomes and can help the clinician in taking decisions in every day clinical practice. In epidemiological studies, the effect of exposure can be measured both in relative and absolute terms. The risk ratio, the incidence rate ratio, and the odds ratio are relative measures of effect. Risk difference is an absolute measure of effect and it is calculated by subtracting the risk of the outcome in exposed individuals from that of unexposed.

MeSH terms

  • Confidence Intervals
  • Humans
  • Odds Ratio*
  • Risk*