Standardization according to blood pressure lowering in meta-analyses of antihypertensive trials: comparison of three methodological approaches

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Abstract

Objective:

Assess how standardization of relative risks (RRs) and standard errors (SEs), according to blood pressure differences within trials, affects heterogeneity, overall effect estimates and study weights in meta-analyses of antihypertensive treatment.

Method:

Data from a previous systematic review were used. Three sets of analyses were performed, using both random-effects and fixed-effects model for meta-analyses. First, we used raw data from the included trials. Second, we standardized RRs as if SBP was reduced by 10 mmHg in all trials. Third, we standardized both RRs and SEs.

Results:

When RRs were standardized according to blood pressure lowering, heterogeneity between trials increased (I2 = 36 vs. 93% for mortality). This conferred large differences in treatment effect estimates using random-effects and fixed-effects model (RR 0.79, 95% confidence interval 0.70–0.89, respectively, 0.97, 0.94–0.99). When SEs were standardized, confidence intervals for individual trials widened, resulting in lower power to detect heterogeneity across trials. Study weights were dissociated from number of events in trials (P < 0.0001, R2 = 0.99 before standardization vs. P = 0.063, R2 = 0.05 after standardization). This induced a secondary shift in weight from trials with lower baseline SBP to trials with higher baseline SBP, resulting in exaggerated overall effect estimates.

Conclusion:

Standardization of RRs exaggerates differences between trials and makes meta-analyses highly sensitive to choice of statistical method. Standardization of SEs masks heterogeneity and results in biased effect estimates.

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