Liza Baskin, DailyRX
Thyroid disease wreaks havoc on your body and might make it difficult to work.
A person’s quality of life can be significantly affected by thyroid problems. New research looked to the workplace to see just how much thyroid disease can impact a person’s life.
A recent study found that people with hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) were more likely to take sick leave from work for long periods of time than their healthy coworkers, especially within the first year after being diagnosed.
Patients with a specific type of hyperthyroidism, called Graves’ orbitopathy, were at the highest risk for work disability.
Discuss concerns about health and employment with your endocrinologist.
The lead author of this study was Mette Andersen Nexø, PhD student, MSc, from the National Research Centre for the Working Environment and the Department of Public Health at the University of Copenhagen, both in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The study included 862 patients (765 women and 97 men) with thyroid diseases who were recruited from two university hospital outpatient clinics in Denmark in 2007.
Thyroid disease included in this study were:
- Nontoxic goiter: Abnormal swelling of the thyroid gland, but the thyroid retains normal function
- Hyperthyroidism: Thyroid gland is overactive
- Graves’ orbitopathy: A type of hyperthyroidism in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland; also involves eye complications and goiter
- Autoimmune hypothyroidism: Underactive thyroid gland, plus the immune system attacks the thyroid
- Other thyroid diseases
This study also included a control (comparison) group of 7,043 people randomly selected from the general population using the Danish Civil Registration system. These control participants were matched by age, gender and regional area of Denmark to the thyroid patients.
The researchers compared sick leave and disability pension claims among the thyroid disease patients to those of the control group using national records from 1994 to 2011.
The findings showed that the thyroid patients had significantly different experiences with sickness absence, disability pension, return from sickness absence and unemployment compared to the control group.
Within the first year after being diagnosed, the patients with Graves’ orbitopathy were 6.94 times more likely to take an extended leave of absence from work than the people in the control group.
The patients with other hyperthyroid issues were 2.08 times more likely to take a leave of absence from work and 38 percent less likely to return to work after the absence during the first year after diagnosis compared to the control group.
The researchers discovered that the patients with hyperthyroid issues (with the exception of Graves’ orbitopathy) had a 4.15 times increased risk of receiving disability pension compared to the control group.
Those with autoimmune hypothyroidism were 38 percent less likely to return to work after taking a leave of absence due to sickness compared to those in the control group.
During the years after the first year, the people with Graves’ orbitopathy had a 2.08-fold increased risk of taking an absence from work and were 49 percent less likely to return to work after the absence compared to the people in the control group.
The findings also revealed that the Graves’ orbitopathy patients were 48 percent less likely to be employed and 4.40 times more likely to be on disability pension during later years compared to the control group.
The hyperthyroid patients (with the exception of Graves’ orbitopathy patients) were 29 percent less likely to return to work after taking a sickness leave during later years.
“The findings demonstrate the potential socioeconomic effects thyroid conditions can have, but also indicate that socioeconomic effects diminish once the disorders are treated,” Nexø said in a press statement.
It’s important not only for patients, but for employers and society as a whole, to ensure that people who have thyroid conditions receive the medical care they need.
This study was limited by a small sample size of each thyroid disease, and data were recorded only once, so the researchers had no data on possible changes in thyroid disease over time.
In addition, the participants were all under 60 years old because Danish citizens become eligible for early retirement at that age.
This study was published on June 17th, 2014 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).