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Multiple System Atrophy and Social Security Disability

Finding yourself unable to do the things you used to do with ease can be highly frustrating, depressing, and result in career and lifestyle changes you don’t want to face. Applying for Social Security Disability Insurance is one way to help you cope with a serious injury, illness, or condition which has robbed you of your ability to earn a living, perform routine tasks, or perhaps even to take care of yourself.

Perhaps your illness is so severe you can’t even afford to wait for your disability to be determined, a process which is known to take several months. If your condition is listed as one of the SSA’s Compassionate Allowances, however, you may be able to receive a determination and start collecting benefits as quickly as a few weeks.

The Compassionate Allowance initiative is a program that allows the SSA to process certain diseases and diagnoses faster based on the extensive medical proof that they are extremely disabling. With this program, those who need the most help can receive it the fastest. Not only does this benefit applicants for Social Security Disability, it also decreases the backlog of cases in the SSA’s case file, a problem which has raised concern in the last several years. By allowing faster processing of priority cases, everyone benefits.

Multiple system atrophy is one of the SSA’s newest additions to its list of Compassionate Allowances, qualifying for faster processing starting in December 2011.

Multiple System Atrophy – Conditions & Symptoms

Multiple system atrophy is the term which describes three different disorders: Striatonigral Degeneration, Sporadic Olivopontocerebellar Atrophy, and Shy-Drager Syndrome.

Although they are termed based on their symptoms, all three conditions are the results of unexplained damage to neurons which affects both autonomic and motor functions. Autonomic functions, such as breathing, heart rate, digestion, and perspiration, are automatically performed by the body without conscious thought. Motor functions, on the other hand, are consciously-driven movements of the body made possible by nerve impulses sent to the muscles.

Initial symptoms of multiple system atrophy are similar to Parkinson’s disease. Patients will have difficulty moving and jerky movements, difficulty with balance and walking, as well as possible bladder and erectile dysfunction. As the neuron degeneration continues, symptoms are grouped into three categories:

  • Autonomic malfunctions – drops in blood pressure, disturbance to sleep patterns due to abnormal breathing, abnormal sweating, decreased salivation and oil secretion causing dry mouth and skin, vocal cord failure, urinary problems, digestive problems, constipation, or erectile dysfunction.
  • Parkinsonism – jerky, difficult movement typical of Parkinson’s disease
  • Cerebellar dysfunction – coordination and balance problems

Multiple symptom atrophy affects men slightly more than women, and usually appears in their late 50s or 60s. The exact cause for multiple symptom atrophy is still unknown, and although its symptoms are treatable, there is no known cure. Damage to neurons in the brain is irreversible and progressive. Those whose multiple system atrophy progresses less quickly than others may live up to 9 years after diagnosis. However, it is unlikely that multiple system atrophy patients will remain fully independent after 5 years with this highly disabling degenerative condition.

Diagnosing multiple symptom atrophy is difficult since it share many symptoms of Parkinsonism. However, multiple system atrophy isn’t usually accompanied by cognitive failure as with Parkinson’s, affects areas of autonomic function, and progresses more rapidly. No definite test can solidify a MSA diagnosis until after death; symptoms, medical history, and brain scans which show affected areas must be used together to form a diagnosis.

Treatments for multiple system atrophy focus on controlling its dangerous blood pressure drops, Parkinson’s symptoms, and other body system dysfunctions. Physical therapy and rehabilitation can be beneficial to keeping multiple system atrophy from becoming completely crippling.

Applying for Social Security Disability with a Multiple System Atrophy Diagnosis

Since multiple system atrophy is a Compassionate Allowance-qualifying disease, its diagnosis is a guarantee of faster disability determination. A multiple system atrophy diagnosis, however, can be difficult to get. Finding a neurologist who has experience with diagnosing Parkinson’s disease and its variants will be extremely helpful in obtaining a confident diagnosis and avoiding misdiagnosis. Parkinson’s disease in and of itself does not qualify for a Compassionate Allowance, so your documentation must show the presence of the autonomic dysfunctions which occur only in multiple system atrophy. In addition, MRI brain scans are useful in diagnosis, as they often show characteristic activity in the affected areas of the brain.

As always, the other qualifications for SSDI eligibility must be met.

Your Multiple System Atrophy Disability Case

Multiple system atrophy is a highly degenerative nerve disease which is known to disable almost all of its victims within 5 years of diagnosis. If you have been diagnosed with MSA, you are a prime candidate for Social Security Disability, and will benefit from the SSA’s Compassionate Allowance program.

As important as it is that you receive benefits, it is crucial to ensure your application is filed correctly. Just as you go to highly trained doctors for the best medical analysis, it may be wise to seek the help of a trained Social Security Disability attorney to assist you with navigating the SSA’s disability program successfully.