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Work ability in rheumatoid arthritis patients: a register study on the prospective risk of exclusion and probability of returning to work

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Objectives: The aim was to study work ability in patients with RA compared with the general population by investigating the rates and risks of long-term sickness absence, unemployment and disability pension, and the chance of returning to work and the changes in these risks over time (1994-2011).

Methods: This was a cohort study with up to 17 years of follow-up (mean 6.95 years/person) including 6677 RA patients of working age (identified in the nationwide DANBIO registry) and 56 955 matched controls from the general population. A multi-state model was used to analyse all shifts between the work-related states (long-term sickness absence, unemployment and disability pension, as well as the chance of returning to work) and calculate hazard rates (HRs). Analyses were stratified by disease duration and controlled for socio-demographic factors, physical job exposure and somatic and psychiatric co-morbidities.

Results: RA patients had increased risk of long-term sickness absence (e.g. early RA: HR = 4.00, 95% CI: 3.64, 4.30) and disability pension (e.g. established RA: HR = 2.75, 95% CI: 2.54, 2.98) relative to controls. From 1994-99 to 2006-11, a decrease in the effect of established RA was observed [long-term sickness absence: from HR = 2.25 (95% CI: 1.99, 2.54) to 1.63 (95% CI: 1.51, 1.75); and disability pension: from HR = 3.49 (95% CI: 2.83, 4.32) to 2.40 (95% CI: 2.15, 2.69)]. RA patients had a lower chance of returning to work from long-term sickness absence or unemployment (HR = 0.60, HR=0.80), and this did not change over time.

Conclusion: RA patients remain at high risk for long-term sickness absence and disability pension, despite a positive development between 1996-99 and 2006-11. Returning to work after sick leave or unemployment remains a challenge for RA patients.

Original languageEnglish
JournalRheumatology (Oxford, England)
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)1135-1143
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2017

Bibliographical note


    Research areas

  • Adult, Arthritis, Rheumatoid, Case-Control Studies, Cohort Studies, Denmark, Disability Evaluation, Employment, Female, Humans, Insurance, Disability, Male, Middle Aged, Occupational Health, Predictive Value of Tests, Reference Values, Registries, Retrospective Studies, Return to Work, Risk Assessment, Sick Leave, Sickness Impact Profile, Task Performance and Analysis, Unemployment, Journal Article

ID: 52037535