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Case-Control Study in Research

Posted by Phil on Jun 21, 2017 11:34:12 AM

A case-control study is one of the methods of determining the risk factors involved in various kinds of diseases, their exposure, and vulnerabilities. It is an important method of conducting clinical research or clinical trials. 

It is an observational analysis that studies two existing groups identified on the basis of differing outcome and compared based on some presumed incidental attribute.

What is Case-Control Study?

It could be a study of two groups of patients, one who has a particular disease and another group that doesn’t have that disease. The observations of a study of the two groups would be compared to find out the frequency of exposure to the risk factor present in both groups to establish the relationship between the risk factor and vulnerable subjects.

Case-control studies are based on observations without intervention or any attempt to alter the course of the disease. Their main objective is to determine the exposure to the risk factor in the two groups, basically cases and controls.

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Advantages of Case-Control Studies

Case-control studies, retrospective studies or case-referent studies, as these are often referred, form a major part of clinical research.

Here is a list of advantages.

  • Case-control studies are excellent for studying rare conditions or diseases.
  • Require less time for study because the condition or disease has already manifested.
  • Multiple risk factors can be studied for a given disease.
  • Useful for initial studies to discover or establish an association between risk factors and vulnerabilities.
  • Relatively less costly


  • Difficulty in finding a suitable control group
  • Case-control studies are not effective in evaluating diagnostic tests because they deal with cases that already have the condition and controls that do not.
  • These studies have problems with the quality of data problems as it is collected by relying on memory and people who have the conditions can be biased towards risk factors (known as recall bias)

Dealing with Challenges

Case-control studies play an important role in clinical trials and research. If implemented carefully, these can be very beneficial to get the results. Experts should see that cases and controls are not overmatched. Asking the following suggestions while selecting cases can be helpful.

  • Is the control group an appropriate selection for the population?
  • Is matching and pairing used appropriately to avoid the effects of a confounding variable?
  • Does the study use appropriate criteria for inclusion and exclusion?
  • Are the cases should be homogeneous?
  • What is the form of the disease- A mild form of the disease may also include higher false positives than a severe form of the disease?
  • If cases include false positives, the findings may be false.

A case-control study is based on controls. Here is a list of controls that are often used in this kind of research.

Types of controls

  • Hospital Controls
  • Dead Controls
  • Best friend or neighbor controls
  • Population controls

Matching Criteria in Case-Control Studies

Another important step is the matching process. This is a process of selecting controls in a case-control study that share similar characteristics such as age, sex, and race.

Matching can be done in two ways.

  • Individual matching
  • Group matching

Case-control studies offer a lot of information about the risk factors and exposure to risk factors. This is also known as evidence-based research. It also helps medical experts to understand how a disease develops and progresses. With this data, doctors can devise better health care and patient plans. Carefully selecting the cases and controls decides the success of these studies.

Topics: Clinical Research