Meta-analyses of chronic disease trials with competing causes of death may yield biased odds ratios

MT (Michael) Koller, T (Theo) Stijnen, Ewout Steyerberg, J (Jacob) Lubsen

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Objective: To study the odds ratio (OR) as measure of treatment effect in the context of mutually exclusive causes of death. Study Design and Setting: As example we consider meta-analyses of randomized trials of implantable cardioverter defibrillator implantation (ICD). We compare the pooled OR to the pooled cause-specific hazard ratio (HR) for each of the mutually exclusive outcomes "sudden cardiac death" (SCD) and "death other than SCD." Results: The pooled OR and cause-specific HR for the reduction of SCD are similar (0.43 and 0.44, respectively) for nine included trials. However, the OR erroneously presumes a potential trend toward an adverse effect of the ICD on "death other than arrhythmia" (OR 1.11 [0.84-1.45]), whereas such an effect is small with the cause-specific HR (HR 1.03 [0.79-1.32]). In general, it is shown that a spurious association of treatment with "other death" may be seen when a substantial number of death from the cause of interest is postponed. Conclusion: The OR should be used with caution to study effects of treatment on mutually exclusive causes of death. Practically this concern applies primarily to meta-analysis where the use of the cause-specific HR, whenever available, is recommended. (c) 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)365-372
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Clinical Epidemiology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2008

Research programs

  • EMC NIHES-01-64-03
  • EMC NIHES-02-65-01

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