In medical research, continuous variables are often converted into categorical variables by grouping values into two or more categories. We consider in detail issues pertaining to creating just two groups, a common approach in clinical research. We argue that the simplicity achieved is gained at a cost; dichotomization may create rather than avoid problems, notably a considerable loss of power and residual confounding. In addition, the use of a data-derived ‘optimal’ cutpoint leads to serious bias. We illustrate the impact of dichotomization of continuous predictor variables using as a detailed case study a randomized trial in primary biliary cirrhosis. Dichotomization of continuous data is unnecessary for statistical analysis and in particular should not be applied to explanatory variables in regression models. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.