Updated: 12/28/2021

Measures of Disease Frequency

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  • Introduction
    • Overview
      • incidence and prevalence are methods of measuring disease frequency in a population with respect to time
    • Incidence
      • describes the amount of new disease cases in at-risk people over a certain time period
      • at risk means those who are capable of developing the disease of interest
        • do not already have the disease
        • are not vaccinated against the disease
        • have at-risk anatomy (patients without a prostate cannot get prostate cancer)
      • incidence can be specified 2 ways
        • # of new cases in a population/# of at risk people in the population per unit time
          • e.g., 9 cases of Kawasaki disease per 10,000 children per year
        • # of new cases in a population/time spent at risk (person-time)
          • person-time = number of people at risk x time spent at risk
            • e.g., 9 cases of Kawasaki disease/10,000 child-years
              • if we watched 10,000 at-risk people (children) for 1 year, 5,000 children for 2 years, or 1,000 children for 10 years, etc., we would see 9 new cases during that observation period
    • Prevalence
      • proportion of population that has a disease or risk factor at a specified point or period in time
      • existing cases/total number of people in specific population at a particular time
        • e.g., percent of the U.S. population with diabetes in 2018
      • indicates overall disease burden of population
      • helpful for resource allocation
      • prevalence = incidence x duration
      • factors that increase prevalence include
        • increase in new cases (increased incidence)
        • improved quality of care → decreased mortality → longer duration
        • improved diagnostic ability → higher incidence
        • in-migration of cases or susceptible people
        • out-migration of healthy people
      • factors that decrease prevalence include
        • high case-fatality rate → shorter duration (aggressive cancers)
        • decrease in new cases (decreased incidence)
          • could result from preventative efforts such as vaccination
          • in-migration of healthy people
          • out-migration of cases
          • improved recovery/cure rate

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