Number Needed To Harm

Number Needed To Harm

The number needed to harm (NNH) is an epidemiological measure that indicates how many patients need to be exposed to a risk-factor over a specific period to cause harm in one patient that would not otherwise have been harmed. It is defined as the inverse of the attributable risk. Intuitively, the lower the number needed to harm, the worse the risk-factor.

NNH is similar to Number needed to treat (NNT), where NNT usually refers to a therapeutic intervention and NNH to a detrimental effect or risk factor. NNH is computed with respect to "exposure" and "non-exposure", and can be determined for raw data or for data corrected for confounders. A defined endpoint has to be specified. If the probabilities pexposure and pnon-exposure of this endpoint are known, then the NNH is computed as 1/(pexposure-pnon-exposure).

The NNH is an important measure in evidence-based medicine and helps physicians decide whether it is prudent to proceed with a particular treatment which may expose the patient to harms while providing therapeutic benefits. If a clinical endpoint is devastating enough without the drug (e.g. death, heart attack), drugs with a low NNH may still be indicated in particular situations if the number needed to treat, (the converse for side effects, or the drug's benefit) is less than the NNH. However, there are several important problems with the NNH, involving bias and lack of reliable confidence intervals, as well as difficulties in excluding the possibility of no difference between two treatments or groups.

Read more about Number Needed To Harm:  Worked Example, Number of Exposures Needed To Harm

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