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Jun 18, 2014 10:00 AM EDT

Hyperthyroidism Patients More Likely to Take Extended Sick Leaves than Healthy Peers, Study

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Hyperthyroidism patients are more likely to avail sick leave for extended periods than their healthy counterparts, according to a new study by University of Copenhagen, Denmark. This is particularly observed in the first year after diagnosis.

Researchers said that people suffer from hyperthyroidism - when the thyroid gland is overactive or when they produce too much of the thyroid hormone. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is Graves' disease, where the immune system generates antibodies that attack the thyroid gland. The disease is soon followed by eye complications or inflammation of the thyroid gland known as a goiter.

"When we examined sick leave records, our research found patients with hyperthyroidism faced a significantly higher risk of missing work for three weeks or longer due to illness compared to healthy controls," said one of the study authors - Mette Andersen Nexø, M.A., of the National Research Centre for the Working Environment.

"People who experienced eye complications from Graves' disease were the most likely to require extended sick leave. This same population also was the most likely to leave the workforce altogether and retire on a disability pension."

For the study, the researchers compared sick leave and disability pension claims among 862 Danes who received treatments in 2007 for a thyroid condition to a group of 7,043 controls.

The researchers found that Graves' disease patients with eye complications were seven times more likely to apply for an extended sick leave within a year of diagnosis than their healthier peers. This population was also more than four times as likely to retire on a disability pension compared to healthy controls.

On the other hand, hyperthyroidism patients without eye complications were twice as likely to be absent from work for a long period of time within a year of diagnosis.

"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. "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."

The study, "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",  is published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).

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