## Abstract

To obtain valid inference following stratified randomisation, treatment effects should be estimated with adjustment for stratification variables. Stratification sometimes requires categorisation of a continuous prognostic variable (eg, age), which raises the question: should adjustment be based on randomisation categories or underlying continuous values? In practice, adjustment for randomisation categories is more common. We reviewed trials published in general medical journals and found none of the 32 trials that stratified randomisation based on a continuous variable adjusted for continuous values in the primary analysis. Using data simulation, this article evaluates the performance of different adjustment strategies for continuous and binary outcomes where the covariate-outcome relationship (via the link function) was either linear or non-linear. Given the utility of covariate adjustment for addressing missing data, we also considered settings with complete or missing outcome data. Analysis methods included linear or logistic regression with no adjustment for the stratification variable, adjustment for randomisation categories, or adjustment for continuous values assuming a linear covariate-outcome relationship or allowing for non-linearity using fractional polynomials or restricted cubic splines. Unadjusted analysis performed poorly throughout. Adjustment approaches that misspecified the underlying covariate-outcome relationship were less powerful and, alarmingly, biased in settings where the stratification variable predicted missing outcome data. Adjustment for randomisation categories tends to involve the highest degree of misspecification, and so should be avoided in practice. To guard against misspecification, we recommend use of flexible approaches such as fractional polynomials and restricted cubic splines when adjusting for continuous stratification variables in randomised trials.

Original language | English |
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Journal | Statistics in Medicine |

DOIs | |

Publication status | E-pub ahead of print - 2024 |

## Keywords

- categorise
- covariate adjustment
- dichotomise
- randomised trial
- stratification variable

## ASJC Scopus subject areas

- Epidemiology
- Statistics and Probability