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Occup Med (Lond). 2007 Jan;57(1):43-9. Epub 2006 Oct 17.

Health complaints and sickness absence in Norway, 1996-2003.

Author information

Section of Occupational Health and Social Insurance Medicine, Norwegian Back Pain Network, Research Unit, Unifob helse, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.



From 1996 to 2003, the total number of sickness absence days increased by 65% in Norway.


To investigate if this could be explained by a corresponding increase in the prevalence of self-reported health complaints in the same period.


Representative samples of the Norwegian working population in 1996 (n = 838) and 2003 (n = 637) answered the subjective health complaints (SHC) questionnaire. The single items of the SHC questionnaire were matched with the corresponding sickness absence statistics from the National Insurance Administration in 1996 and 2003.


The main finding was a poor concordance between the change in prevalence of health complaints and the change in the prevalence of sickness absence for diagnoses corresponding to these complaints. The prevalence of health complaints in Norway was high and relatively stable from 1996 to 2003. The only complaints that increased in prevalence during the period were allergy and severe asthma. Sickness absence for health complaints, however, showed a general increase. The diagnoses with the largest percentage increase in sickness absence were sleep problems, tiredness, anxiety and palpitation, although the absolute number of individuals with sickness absence for these complaints was small.


The increased sickness absence in Norway from 1996 to 2003 cannot be explained by an increase in health complaints in the general population in the same period. The increase in sickness absence is most likely to be explained by multifactorial causes, such as changes in working life and health expectations.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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