Objectives While sociodemographic and work-related factors are frequently studied as determinants of sickness absence (SA), health-related determinants have surprisingly received little attention. We examined the effect of multimorbidity and previous SA on the incidence and duration of future SA.
Method A retrospective (2004–2008) cohort of 373,905 workers who underwent a standardised medical evaluation in 2006 from which information on chronic conditions, health-related symptoms and behaviours was used to construct a sex-specific multimorbidity score (MMBS). Information on SA episodes occurring during the two years prior to the examination came from the employment history. We estimated the effect of the MMBS and prior SA on the 2-year incidence and duration of SA post-examination using a Cox model adjusted for age and occupational social class. Effects on SA duration were also adjusted for diagnosis.
Results Men, but not women, showed an effect with a trend of higher SA incidence risk from low (HR=1.06; 95% CI: 1.01–1.11) to high MMBS (HR=1.22; 95% CI: 1.18–1.28). Having five or more prior episodes was related to higher SA incidence risk, both in men (HR=2.19 95% CI: 2.11–2.28) and in women (HR=2.47; 95% CI: 2.35–2.61). Women, but not men, had longer SA duration from low (HR=0.91; 95% CI: 0.83–0.99) to high MMBS (HR=0.88; 95% CI: 0.78–0.99). Having 5 or more prior SA episodes was related to shorter duration in men (HR=1.67; 95% CI: 1.30–2.16) and women (HR=2.12; 95% CI: 1.56–2.89).
Conclusions Multimorbidity increases the risk of higher SA incidence and duration while the effect of prior SA episodes is more complex.
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