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How Disabling is Cirrhosis of the Liver?

Cirrhosis of the liver affects approximately 633,000 adults in the United States. However, the true prevalence of cirrhosis is suspected to be much higher, as many adults do not know that they are affected.

In the early stages, cirrhosis of the liver is often asymptomatic. However, it is a progressive disease that is often fatal.

If you have cirrhosis of the liver that is severe enough to prevent you from earning a gainful living, there could be financial help available to you. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program was created to assist those who have become disabled due to an illness such as cirrhosis of the liver.

What Exactly Is Cirrhosis of the Liver?

Cirrhosis of the liver is a chronic illness that results in irreversible scarring of the liver. It usually occurs as a result of continuous damage to the liver brought on by excessive alcohol use, viral hepatitis B and C, or fatty liver disease.

There are four clinical stages of cirrhosis, and each is associated with a different long-term prognosis. In the early stages, there is only mild inflammation.

However, as the disease progresses, there is so much scarring that the liver cannot function.

Treatment of cirrhosis of the liver depends on the stage at which it was diagnosed. For some, lifestyle modifications such as dietary changes or discontinuing alcohol use may be enough to stop the inflammation. In most cases, treatment of the complications related to the cirrhosis is the best approach.

In severe cases, a liver transplant may be the only option. Every year, approximately 31,000 people in the US die of from cirrhosis.

How disabling is Liver Cirrhosis?

What Symptoms Will Qualify Me for Benefits?

There is a range of symptoms that can be expected when you have cirrhosis of the liver, and they all might affect your ability to work differently. The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses their “Blue Book” manual to determine eligibility. Cirrhosis of the liver is evaluated under section 5.05, Chronic Liver Disease.

Below are some signs that your liver disease might qualify you for disability benefits:

  • Some people with chronic liver disease experience bleeding from the esophagus, stomach, or blood vessels. If you have had bleeding related to your cirrhosis that requires a blood transfusion, you will likely be eligible for disability benefits.
  • Cirrhosis of the liver sometimes causes the build-up of fluid, or ascites, in the abdomen or lungs. If you have experienced an accumulation of fluid that is present on at least two evaluations at least 60 days apart, you will qualify for financial assistance from the SSA.
  • In some cases, those with cirrhosis develop spontaneous bacterial peritonitis, or an infection found in the fluid of the abdomen. If you have developed this condition, you will be considered for benefits.
  • The liver works in conjunction with many different organs. If you experience disruption or failure of other body systems, such as the failure of the kidneys, lungs, or brain due to liver disease, you will be eligible for disability benefits.
  • Some people with cirrhosis of the liver develop a condition called hepatic encephalopathy, in which there is a loss of brain function due to the build-up of toxins. If you experience mood changes, confusion, changes in your thinking ability, or other related brain disorders that are documented by your doctor on at least two occasions, you will likely qualify for assistance from the SSA.
  • Swelling in the legs, feet, and ankles is a possible side-effect of liver disease. If you have a job that requires a lot of time standing or walking, and you experience severe swelling that impedes your ability to do so, you may be eligible for financial assistance.
  • Many people with liver disease experience nausea, loss of appetite and weight loss. While weight loss alone will not qualify you for benefits, if your disease process causes your BMI to fall below 17.50 on at least two occasions, you may qualify for help from the SSA.
  • If you receive a liver transplant for your cirrhosis of the liver, you will be considered disabled for one year from your transplant.
  • The SSA uses an SSA Chronic Liver Disease (SSA CLD) calculation to determine the severity of your liver disease. The calculation is based on a formula using three lab results, over the period of 60 or more days. Your SSA CLD score may help to determine your benefit eligibility.

Do I Qualify for Social Security Benefits?

To be eligible for Social Security benefits, your medical records will need to show that your symptoms are severe enough to prevent you from working at a level which would support you. Additionally, your illness needs to be disabling for at least 12 months.

As previously mentioned, cirrhosis of the liver is a progressive illness that will not get better over time. The level of disability that you are currently experiencing is, unfortunately, likely to decline over time.

If you have previously applied for social security benefits and were denied, you may now be approved if your health has declined.

What Information Will I Need to Provide?

When applying for Social Security, you should be prepared to provide the following documentation:

  • Confirmation of your diagnosis of cirrhosis of the liver from your Physician.
  • Blood tests, liver function panel including ALT and AST, INR and blood platelets, creatinine, bilirubin, as well as other related blood work.
  • X-rays, MRIs, ultrasounds or other images that may confirm the size of your liver, any scarring or fatty deposits, or the presence of any accumulating fluid.
  • Liver biopsy results, if performed.
  • Surgical results, if appropriate.
  • Notes from your doctor, physical therapist, or other health care provider that describe your symptoms and illness, as well as your response to treatments. You should begin gathering the above medical reports as soon as possible. The more medical evidence that you have on your side, the better your chances of being approved for SSDI benefits for cirrhosis of the liver.

What’s Next?

If you have cirrhosis of the liver and you believe that you may qualify for Social Security benefits, you should contact a disability advocate or lawyer in your area. When your health is suffering, it can be difficult to know where to turn or what to do next.

A qualified attorney can help you navigate the Social Security application process, leaving you time to focus on what’s most important: your health.