Sick Leaves Linked to Higher Subsequent Mortality

Those with sickness absence of at least a week over a three-year period were 1.7 times more likely to die
By Eric Metcalf
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Oct. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Medically certified absences from work for a variety of common diagnoses were associated with a higher risk of mortality, according to research published Oct. 2 in BMJ Online First.

Jenny Head, of University College London in the United Kingdom, and colleagues analyzed data regarding the medically certified sickness absences of 6,478 civil servants aged 35 to 55 during a three-year span. Subjects were followed for a mean 13 years.

For those having a sickness absence lasting more than seven days during the three-year period, mortality was 1.7 times higher than in those with no such absences, the researchers report. The hazard ratio for mortality was 1.9 for absences due to psychiatric diagnoses, 2.2 for surgeries and 4.7 for circulatory disease diagnoses, the investigators found. Employees with an absence for psychiatric reasons had a 2.5-fold higher cancer mortality.

"Sickness absence is a serious economic problem with large costs for health care and many lost working hours for businesses. We found that the almost 30 percent of participants who had a sickness absence spell of more than seven days over a three-year period had a 66 percent increased risk of premature death. We do not consider that the taking of sick leave itself is a risk behavior. Instead, it may be a marker of circumstances and health problems that increase mortality," the authors conclude.

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