Implementing the number needed to harm in clinical practice: risk of myocardial infarction in HIV-1-infected patients treated with abacavir

HIV Med. 2010 Mar;11(3):200-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-1293.2009.00763.x. Epub 2009 Oct 27.


Objectives: The D:A:D study group reported a 1.9-fold increased relative risk (RR) of myocardial infarction (MI) associated with current or recent use of abacavir. The number needed to harm (NNH) incorporates information about the underlying risk of MI and the increased RR of MI in patients taking abacavir.

Methods: NNH was calculated as the reciprocal of the difference between the underlying risks of MI with and without abacavir use. A parametric statistical model was used to calculate the underlying risk of MI over 5 years.

Results: The relationship between NNH and underlying risk of MI is reciprocal, resulting in wide variation in the NNH with small changes in underlying risk of MI. The smallest changes in NNH are in the medium- and high-risk groups of MI. The NNH changes as risk components are modified; for example, for a patient who smokes and has a systolic blood pressure (sBP) of 160 mmHg and a 5-year risk of MI of 1.3% the NNH is 85, but the NNH increases to 277 if the patient is a nonsmoker and to 370 if sBP is within the normal range (120 mmHg).

Conclusions: We have illustrated that the impact of abacavir use on risk of MI varies according to the underlying risk and it may be possible to increase considerably the NNH by decreasing the underlying risk of MI using standard of care interventions, such as smoking cessation or control of hypertension.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Cholesterol, HDL / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus / epidemiology
  • Dideoxynucleosides / adverse effects*
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • HIV-1
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Myocardial Infarction / chemically induced*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors / adverse effects*
  • Risk*
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Uncertainty


  • Cholesterol, HDL
  • Dideoxynucleosides
  • Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors
  • abacavir