How Does Thyroid Disease Affect Ability To Work?

Mette Andersen Nexø Psychologist, Ph.D. student at The National Research Center for the Working Environment Copenhagen Area, Interview with
Mette Andersen Nexø
Psychologist, Ph.D. student at The National Research Center for the Working Environment
Copenhagen Area, Denmark

MedicalResearch: What is the background for this study?

Answer: The present study is a systematic assessment of the influence of a spectrum of thyroid diseases on ability to work. By presenting new information on the possible socioeconomic consequences of thyroid diseases, the results can help bring awareness to important needs for rehabilitation of thyroid patients.

MedicalResearch: What are the main findings of the study?

Answer: Graves’ disease patients with eye complications were seven times more likely than healthy peers to have an extended sick leave from work within a year of diagnosis. In subsequent years, the risk diminished but remained twice as high compared to healthy peers. Patients with Graves’ orbitopathy also had difficulties returning to work after sick leave or unemployment and was more than four times as likely to retire on a disability pension compared to healthy controls.

People with hyperthyroidism without eye complications also faced a heightened risk of taking an extended sick leave. They were twice as likely as peers to miss weeks of work due to illness within a year of diagnosis.

While the risk of taking sick leave was not significantly affected, people with autoimmune hypothyroidism faced longer recovery than healthy peers if they had to take sick leave in the first year after diagnosis. In subsequent years, there were no significant indication that the hypothyroidism affected workplace absenteeism.

MedicalResearch: Were any of the findings unexpected?

Answer: The results indicate that some of the thyroid conditions may have considerable work disability and therefore demonstrate needs for rehabilitation. At the same time the results also indicate that the work disability diminish with time – presumably because of the effects of treatment.

MedicalResearch: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Answer Hyperthyroidism (Graves’ disease and toxic nodular goiter) and hypothyroidism may impact the ability to work, increase the risk and length of sick leave and make it difficult to return to work. These risks are most pronounced in the first year after being diagnosed with these diseases and attenuates in subsequent years. Patients with Graves’ disease who also have eye complications (Graves’ orbitopathy) are at highest risk of permanent work disability.

MedicalResearch: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Answer The next step is to identify how the socioeconomic consequences of thyroid diseases can be prevented. An important contribution of future research would be to identify treatment and work related factors that help people maintain their ability to work and remain employed.

Increased Risk of Long Term Sickness Absence, Lower Rate of Return to Work, and Higher Risk of Unemployment and Disability Pensioning for Thyroid Patients: A Danish Register-based Cohort Study

M. A. Nexo, T. Watt, J. Pedersen, S. J. Bonnema, L. Hegedüs, A. K. Rasmussen, U. Feldt-Rasmussen and J. B. Bjorner

Early Release, jc.2013-4468 June 17, 2014


Last Updated on June 20, 2014 by Marie Benz MD FAAD