This is an archived version of the Handbook. For the current version, please go to training.cochrane.org/handbook/current or search for this chapter here.

Because risk and odds are different when events are common, the risk ratio and the odds ratio also differ when events are common. The non-equivalence of the risk ratio and odds ratio does not indicate that either is wrong: both are entirely valid ways of describing an intervention effect. Problems may arise, however, if the odds ratio is misinterpreted as a risk ratio. For interventions that increase the chances of events, the odds ratio will be larger than the risk ratio, so the misinterpretation will tend to overestimate the intervention effect, especially when events are common (with, say, risks of events more than 20%). For interventions that reduce the chances of events, the odds ratio will be smaller than the risk ratio, so that again misinterpretation overestimates the effect of the intervention. This error in interpretation is unfortunately quite common in published reports of individual studies and systematic reviews.