OBJECTIVE To study work disability (WD) with reference to levels of sick leave and disability pension in early systemic sclerosis (SSc). METHODS Patients with SSc living in the southern part of Sweden with onset of their first non-Raynaud symptom between 2003 and 2009 and with a followup of 36 months were included in a longitudinal study. Thirty-two patients (26 women, 24 with limited SSc) with a median age of 47.5 years (interquartile range 43-53) were identified. WD was calculated in 30-day intervals from 12 months prior to disease onset until 36 months after, presented as the prevalence of WD per year (0-3) and as the period prevalence of mean net days per month (± SD). Comparisons were made between patients with different disease severity and sociodemographic characteristics, and between patients and a reference group (RG) from the general population. RESULTS Seventy-eight percent had no WD 1 year prior to disease onset, which decreased to 47% after 3 years. The relative risk for WD in patients with SSc compared with RG was 0.95 (95% CI 0.39-2.33) at diagnosis, and increased to 2.41 (1.28-4.55) after 3 years. There were no significant correlations between WD and disease severity, but between WD and years at workplace (rs = -0.72; p = 0.002), education (rs = -0.51; p = 0.004), and sickness absence the month before disease onset (rs = 0.58; p = 0.001), respectively. CONCLUSION Considerable increase in WD was noted 3 years after disease onset. Limited education, fewer years at workplace, and sickness absence before disease onset may be risk factors for sustained WD.
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