June 10, 2014
1 min read

Glaucoma specialist clarifies true meaning of a risk factor

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NICE, France — It is important to have a clear concept of what risk factors are and what they are not, according to a speaker here.

Anne L. Coleman, MD, defined risk factors as a measurable quantity signaling the elevated rate of occurrence of a disease. The most important thing to realize, according to Coleman, is that risk factors are most often derived from statistical analysis.

Anne L. Coleman

“You have to understand that a risk factor might induce or cause glaucoma, but it could be that glaucoma is inducing or causing the risk factor. It could be that the risk factor and glaucoma are related to an underlying condition and have nothing to do with each other. Or it could be that the risk factor is associated with glaucoma because of a ‘lurking variable,’ so it is something else that’s confounding us,” Coleman said at the 2014 European Glaucoma Society meeting.

The second important point to remember is that a risk factor is not a cause, according to Coleman.

“It doesn’t mean that it causes glaucoma, and this is very important,” she said.

Third, ocular parameters such as the visual field, optic nerve or retinal fiber layer are predictive or deriving factors, but they cannot be risk factors because they define the disease.

Risk factors “don’t tell you if the person will develop glaucoma, but make you think more about the possibilities or the odds,” Coleman said.

Disclosure: Coleman has no relevant financial disclosures.