Common prognostic factors of work disability among employees with a chronic somatic disease: a systematic review of cohort studies

Scand J Work Environ Health. 2009 Jul;35(4):261-81. doi: 10.5271/sjweh.1337.


Objective: Based on prospective and retrospective disease cohort studies, the aim of this review was to determine common prognostic factors for work disability among employees with rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes mellitus, and ischemic heart disease (IHD).

Methods: A systematic literature search in Medline (1990-2008) and Embase (1990-2008) was carried out to identify relevant cohort studies using a well-defined list of inclusion and quality criteria.

Results: We identified 43 relevant cohort studies with sufficient methodological quality (20 for rheumatoid arthritis, 3 for asthma and 20 for IHD). The common prognostic factors for work disability found in all the diseases were: perceived health complaints, limitation in daily physical activities caused by the disease (high versus low), heavy manual work, and female gender. The common positive prognostic factors for rheumatoid arthritis and IHD were age (high versus low) and sickness absence. The common negative factors for rheumatoid arthritis and IHD were education (high versus low) and ethnic origin (white versus non-white).

Conclusions: As many prognostic factors for work disability are similar for employees with various chronic diseases, it is possible to detect high risk groups. This information supports the development and implementation of a general disability management intervention for employees suffering from a chronic disease to overcome health-related limitations at work.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Disabled Persons*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Activity
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Health*
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Care
  • Sex Factors
  • Somatoform Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Workplace