Objective: To study the risk factors for early work disability in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
Methods: A sample of 159 SLE patients who had been employed at some time since diagnosis was drawn from a multicenter study of outcome in SLE. Disease activity, organ damage, education, income, source of health insurance, and work-related factors were measured in a standardized interview. Work disability was defined by patient self-report of not working because of SLE. The outcome measure was current work status. Seven patients were excluded from the analysis because their choice not to work was unrelated to SLE.
Results: An average of 3.4 years after diagnosis, 40% had quit work completely, and job modification was substantial. Univariate analysis (chi-square and t-test) showed that significant predictors of early work disability included having a high school education or less, receiving Medicaid or having no health insurance, having a job which required more physical strength, having an income below poverty level, and having greater disease activity at diagnosis. In multivariate models, significant predictors were education level (P = 0.0004), higher physical demands of the job (P = 0.0028), and higher disease activity at diagnosis (P = 0.0078). Race, sex, cumulative organ damage at diagnosis, and disease duration were not significant.
Conclusion: Early work disability in SLE is strongly associated with some sociodemographic factors that might be amenable to intervention.