Measures of disease frequency: prevalence and incidence

Nephron Clin Pract. 2010;115(1):c17-20. doi: 10.1159/000286345. Epub 2010 Feb 19.


To describe how often a disease or another health event occurs in a population, different measures of disease frequency can be used. The prevalence reflects the number of existing cases of a disease. In contrast to the prevalence, the incidence reflects the number of new cases of disease and can be reported as a risk or as an incidence rate. Prevalence and incidence are used for different purposes and to answer different research questions. In this article, we discuss the different measures of disease frequency and we explain when to apply which measure.

MeSH terms

  • Data Interpretation, Statistical*
  • Epidemiologic Methods*
  • Humans
  • Incidence*
  • Prevalence*
  • Terminology as Topic*