Absolute VERSUS Relative Risk in Medicine

Understanding the Difference

[By staff reporters]

Absolute Risk. The observed or calculated probability of the occurrence of an event, X—e.g., toxic exposure, infection, etc.—in a population relative to its exposure to a specific hazard or pathogen. Absolute risk is risk stated without any context whatsoever.

The relative risk (also called the risk ratio) of something happening is where you compare the odds for two groups against each other. For example, you could have two groups of women: one group has a mother, sister or daughter who has had breast cancer. The other group does not have any close female relatives who have had the disease. The group with close family members who have had the disease are more likely to develop breast cancer (National Cancer Institute). Relative risk is usually reported as a percentage (i.e. 10% more likely) but you’ll also see it written as “x times more likely” (i.e. ten times more likely). Although relative risk does provide some information about risk, it doesn’t say anything about the actual odds of something happening; on the other hand, absolute risk does.

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Risk Management, Liability Insurance, and Asset Protection Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™ Risk Management, Liability Insurance, and Asset Protection Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™

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