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Neurodegenerative disease risk among former international rugby union players
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  • Published on:
    Caution required when interpreting the risk of MND.
    • J L Oke, Senior Statistician & Lecturer University of Oxford
    • Other Contributors:
      • T R Fanshawe, Senior Statistician & University Research Lecturer

    Russell et al report on the risk of neurodegenerative disease (a composite outcome including dementia, motor neuron disease (MND) and Parkinson’s disease) among former international rugby union players. Using a matched retrospective cohort design they show not only that the rugby players group had two and half times the risk of developing neurodegenerative disease, they were also more likely to die from, be hospitalised due to, or be prescribed drugs related to neurodegenerative diseases. These are important findings.

    The risks for Dementia, Parkinson’s disease and MND are also estimated. It is regrettable that many media outlets (The Times, Independent, Mirror, Irish Times and the Guardian to name but a few) have focused on the secondary motor neuron disease outcome, with its odds ratio point estimate of around 15, given the considerable uncertainty attached to this figure (95% confidence interval 2.10 to 178.96). Although the other outcomes have more events, and are consequently more likely to be robust, attention has been drawn to the most eye-catching 'risk' figure, even though this is not one of the primary findings of the paper.

    What seems to be missing from this report is information about how many players were diagnosed with MND, or what these findings mean in terms of the absolute risk. The authors do not report how many people had MND in the rugby group, but they do say "In the analysis of MND/ALS, zero events were recorded among the...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.