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Hemochromatosis and Social Security Disability

Hemochromatosis - Condition and Symptoms

Hemochromatosis is a hereditary condition that causes the body to absorb too much iron from food. As a result, this excess iron accumulates in some of the body’s major organs. This build-up of iron can be harmful and may lead to damage.

Iron is an essential part of our diets. Its main function is to carry oxygen through the blood to the rest of the body. Normally, we absorb about 10% of the iron contained in the food we eat. Someone with hemochromatosis may absorb as much as 4 times this amount. Since the human body cannot get rid of the extra iron, it collects in major organs and in the joints. If this excess iron is not removed, these organs can become diseased. Left untreated, hemochromatosis can eventually be fatal.

Caucasians of Northern European descent are most at risk for the genetic mutation that causes the classic form of hemochromatosis, and men are more likely to develop it than women. There are, however, other forms of the disease which appear to be more evenly distributed among all ethnicities. Among women who are genetically predisposed toward the condition, symptoms are more likely to appear after menopause. Symptoms of hemochromatosis can include:

  • Fatigue/Loss of energy
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Abdominal pain
  • Memory difficulties
  • Loss of libido
  • Joint pain

In its early stages, hemochromatosis may not cause any symptoms at all. As the disease progresses, it can cause pancreas problems that result in diabetes mellitus, congestive heart failure, heart palpitations, and especially cirrhosis of the liver, which may also lead to liver cancer.

A preliminary diagnosis for hemochromatosis may be obtained through a blood test for iron levels. However, since other conditions can result in elevated iron levels in the blood, further testing may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis. Some of these may include genetic testing to confirm the presence of the mutation that causes hemochromatosis, or a liver biopsy.

If diagnosed early enough, hemochromatosis can usually be treated simply by removing blood from the patient, thereby reducing the iron levels in the body. This is accomplished through the same procedure used when donating blood. The frequency of these treatments is determined by the severity of the iron surplus and the body’s response to having blood removed. Once the iron levels are normalized, these treatments may be administered less frequently as part of a maintenance regimen.

Filing for Social Security Disability with a Hemochromatosis Diagnosis

Hemochromatosis is listed in the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Blue Book (the impairment listing manual) as one of the conditions that may potentially qualify a claimant for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income. Due to its impact on the function of the liver, it is classified as a chronic liver disease. As such, it is required to meet certain diagnostic criteria. These include:

Hemorrhaging from varices (blood vessels that may rupture and bleed) or from portal hypertensive gastropathy (disease of the stomach from high blood pressure in the abdominal arteries) resulting in unstable blood pressure and requiring hospitalization for transfusion of at least 2 units of blood, or any of the following:

  • Accumulation of fluid in the abdominal or pleural cavities that cannot be attributed to other causes in spite of continuing treatment, present on at least 2 occasions at least 60 days apart during a 6 month period, or
  • Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (infection of the lining of the abdominal cavity) of a pre-determined severity, or
  • failure of the kidneys due to liver disease, or
  • Hepatic encephalopathy (disruption of brain function due to an accumulation of toxins resulting from liver failure) of a pre-determined severity, or
  • End-stage liver disease of a pre-determined severity.

Your Hemochromatosis Disability Case

If you have been diagnosed with hemochromatosis and if it has impacted your health the point that you are unable to work, there is a good chance you may be entitled to receive Social Security Disability benefits. Keep in mind that the above criteria are related to liver function. However, since hemochromatosis impacts other organs as well, your disability case may be based upon damage to those organs. For example, if the disease damages the pancreas and results in diabetes, that diagnosis would form the basis for your disability case. If you were to develop congestive heart failure as a result of hemochromatosis, you would be qualified to seek disability benefits based upon cardiac disease, and so on. Because of the complexities involved with sorting through all of the details, it would be in your best interest to have your case evaluated by a Social Security Disability attorney or advocate.

A brief review of the necessary diagnostic criteria shows that there is a lot of documentation needed to adequately prove a disability. Put simply, if your application and its accompanying paperwork are not in order, there is a very good chance your case will be denied, resulting in a long appeal process. Working closely with your medical team, an experienced Social Security Disability lawyer can help you get the benefits you need and deserve without the stress of doing alone.