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Evidence-Based Dermatology: Review |

The (Relative) Risks of Using Odds Ratios

Kenneth A. Katz, MD, MSc
Arch Dermatol. 2006;142(6):761-764. doi:10.1001/archderm.142.6.761.
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Odds ratios are commonly presented in the medical literature, including dermatology journals. Even when used appropriately, odds ratios are often difficult to interpret. This article illustrates this problem using an example from the recent dermatology literature. It then reviews the definitions of odds and odds ratio, as well as how odds and odds ratio relate to probability and relative risk. The divergence of odds ratios from relative risks when events are common (occurring in ≥10% of a sample) is explained. Methods to convert odds ratios to relative risks (and the reasons why conversion should be considered) are discussed.

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Graphic illustration of the convergence and the divergence of odds ratios and relative risks when the risk is lower in the control group. This graph assumes that the probability among cases is always 3 times the probability among the control group, so that the relative risk is always 3. The odds ratio begins to diverge from the relative risk markedly as the probability among the control group exceeds 0.1.

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