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Rheumatoid Arthritis and Social Security Disability

Rheumatoid Arthritis - Condition and Symptoms

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Rheumatoid Arthritis is a disease that causes damage to joints, organs, and bodily systems due to inflammation of joint tissues.

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What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

While inflammation is usually a response by a person’s immune system to disease or infection, the immune system of a Rheumatoid Arthritis sufferer attacks the person’s healthy joints, causing:

  • pain
  • stiffness
  • swelling in the joints
  • host of other symptoms.

As the disease progresses, it causes difficulty:

  • pursuing normal activities
  • walking
  • standing
  • getting dressed
  • personal grooming
  • household chores

Severe Rheumatoid Arthritis is a crippling condition that often prevents people from working within five to ten years of diagnosis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic disease. If the inflammation caused by Rheumatoid Arthritis is not treated, it can cause permanent damage both to the joints and other affected areas of the body. Rheumatoid Arthritis is not the same as osteoarthritis or other forms of arthritis. Instead, it is an autoimmune disease, which causes the body’s immune system to turn on healthy tissue. Because Rheumatoid Arthritis affects many parts of the body, it is also known as a systemic disease.

Diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis

Physicians can diagnose Rheumatoid Arthritis by:

  • a physical examination
  • blood tests to detect abnormal antibodies and sedimentation rate (which indicate the level of inflammation present)
  • x-rays
  • bone scans
  • MRI scans which may reveal the effects of the disease on the joints

A diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis will be based on the pattern of symptoms, the distribution of the inflamed joints, and the blood and X-ray findings. In some cases, additional tests may be ordered to rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms, such as gout. Nodules under the skin are often a sign of the disease. Other types of inflammatory arthritis include ankylosing spondylitis, reactive arthritis (Reiter Syndrome), and psoriatic arthritis.

Early symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis include:

  • pain and swelling of the joints that cause them to be tender to the touch
  • red and puffy hands
  • bumps under the skin of your arms (nodules)
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • weight loss
  • morning stiffness

Generally the smaller joints are affected first, followed by the larger joints and even the neck.

Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis

Osteoarthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome are common complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis, as is anemia. Damage to the joints can cause weakening of the muscles and skeleton, the fluid around the heart may become inflamed, affecting both the heart itself and its blood vessels. Other systems that may be affected include the lungs, digestive tract, nervous system, eyes, and kidneys.

There is no cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis. Treatment will usually stop or at least slow down the inflammation caused by Rheumatoid Arthritis. When the inflammation is arrested, other symptoms of the disease can be prevented or reduced. Treatments include:

  • arthrocentesis (draining the joint fluid, which helps relieve swelling and pain)
  • cortisone injections (to reduce pain and inflammation)
  • use of aspirin (to reduce pain and inflammation)
  • use of gold, methotrexate, and hydroxychloroquine (to promote remission)

Filing for Social Security Disability with a Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosis

To be approved for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits due to Rheumatoid Arthritis or other inflammatory arthritis, you must meet or equal both Part A and Part B of Listing 1.02 under the Social Security guidebook, also known as the “Blue Book:”

Part A: You must have a three-month history of constant joint pain, as well as swelling and tenderness that involves multiple major joints. These joints are defined as the hip, knee, shoulder, ankle, elbow, or hand and wrist. In addition, joint inflammation, swelling, and tenderness must be found upon physical examination, in spite of treatment. You must also have considerable restriction of joint function. These symptoms must be expected to last for twelve months or more.


Part B: You must provide a positive Serologic test for one of the following:

  1. Antinuclear antibodies-ANA; or
  2. Elevated sedimentation rate-ESR; or
  3. Rheumatoid Factor –RF; or
  4. A biopsy of synovial membrane or subcutaneous nodule done by an outside source.

Your Social Security Disability benefits can be based on the Part A/Part B tests, but if you are one of the people who does not meet the qualifications listed above, it is still possible to receive Social Security Disability benefits in the form of a medical vocational allowance. These allowances are based on medical information in addition to age, education, work history, and residual functional capacity. If your condition has severely restricted your ability to function physically, you may be able to get approval for Social Security Disability benefits without meeting the Part A/Part B test shown above.

Your Rheumatoid Arthritis Disability Case

If you are disabled and cannot work because of severe Rheumatoid Arthritis, you are likely entitled to Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits. With adequate medical records and test results, complete medical documentation, and other proof that you are severely restricted by this disease, you should be able to successfully present your case to the SSA. It is advisable that you work closely with medical professionals and a qualified Social Security Disability attorney or advocate to collect and present the appropriate documentation to support your disability claim in front of the Social Security Administration. This can help to ensure that your Rheumatoid Arthritis disability case will have the highest possible chance of success.