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Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 2013;157(24):A5882.

[Causality: risk factors and interventions].

[Article in Dutch]

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Leids Universitair Medisch Centrum, afd. Klinische Epidemiologie, Leiden, the Netherlands.


A risk factor has a causal effect on a disease when the disease would not have occurred in the absence of the risk factor. Analogous reasoning applies to the effect of a particular therapy. Thinking in terms of contrasts is fundamental to causal reasoning in medicine. The contrast determines the content of the causal claim; the most important assumption here is that the prognosis between groups is comparable. Causal effects of risk factors are not always the same as the causal effect of an intervention: removal of a risk factor (e.g. smoking) for a disease does not necessarily mean that the risk will subsequently normalize. A second problem is that risk factors cannot always easily be translated into interventions. This applies to factors that cannot be changed (e.g. gender) or that can have multiple causes themselves (e.g. obesity).

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