People who take long spells of sick leave at least once in three years face a higher risk of early death, according to a study that could help doctors pinpoint patients with life-threatening problems.
Researchers led by Jenny Head, an epidemiologist at University College London, obtained sickness absence records for nearly 6,500 British civil servants aged between 35 and 55, between 1985 and 1988.
They compared this data with mortality among the same group up to 2004.
The death rate was significantly higher among workers who had taken more frequent spells of sick leave.
Nearly 30 percent who had taken a medically-certified absence from work -- sick leave lasting more than seven days -- at least once in a three-year period had a 66-percent increased risk of premature death compared with workers with no such absence.
The death rate was especially high among employees with circulatory disease or psychiatric problems. There was no additional risk of death among those who took sick leave for back or neck problems.
The paper, published on Friday by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), suggests spells of sick leave can be a useful, fast-track indicator for general practitioners, as they could point to an urgent, underlying health problem.
The tool could also help identify employees suffering from stress and high job demands, enabling them to get treatment from occupational physicians.