Objective: To summarize research pertaining to work disability in lupus patients, discuss challenges patients face applying for federal disability assistance in the US, and make recommendations for clinical and health policy research.
Methods: We searched Medline for articles on work or disability in lupus patients and gathered information from the Social Security Administration and the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives.
Results: We found 12 publications with employment-related data; 6 included analysis of predictors of work status. The prevalence of inability to work or cessation of work was 15-51% in these studies (3-15 years after diagnosis); 20-32% of patients received disability benefits. Lower education level, higher disease activity, higher disease damage, older age, and higher physical job strain were independent predictors of work disability or work cessation in at least 2 studies. Lupus patients may be less successful than patients with other diseases when applying for federal disability assistance, possibly because medical records may not accurately reflect functional limitations. In addition, symptoms contributing to work disability (e.g., fatigue, pain, neurocognitive dysfunction) may be difficult to assess and quantify.
Conclusion: Work disability in lupus patients is common. Additional research on risk factors for work disability in lupus patients and on strategies for reducing the impact of these factors on work-related activities is needed. The development of better measures and rating scales for the symptoms responsible for work disability in lupus patients and studies of factors influencing the success of obtaining federal disability benefits would also be useful.