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How Disabling is Crohn’s Disease?

Close to 800,000 people in the United States suffer from Crohn’s disease. This inflammatory disease of the digestive tract has become more prevalent in recent years. The intensity and severity of this chronic illness vary widely from person to person, and symptoms can even change from day to day.

While some people may only have occasional mild symptoms, others are so severely debilitated that their work and social life is significantly impacted.

If you have Crohn’s disease and are unable to work as a result of your illness, there could be financial help available to you. The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program was created to assist those who have become disabled due to an illness such as Crohn’s disease.

What Exactly Is Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn’s disease, a form of inflammatory bowel disease, is a condition in which there is inflammation in the lining of the digestive tract. This inflammation can cause diarrhea, pain in the abdomen, rectal bleeding, weight loss, fever, and fatigue.

In severe cases, intestinal blockages, ulcers, and malnutrition may occur.

Crohn’s disease is an unpredictable chronic illness, known for its flares and remissions. As such, a person suffering from Crohn’s disease often faces many physical and emotional challenges.

As a general rule, Crohn’s disease is considered a progressive illness, meaning that for most people it tends to get worse over time. This means that many individuals who do not initially qualify for SSDI benefits may later qualify as the disease progresses.

While there is no known cure for Crohn’s, there are many possible treatments to help decrease the severity of the symptoms.

Social Security Benefits with Crohn's Disease

What Symptoms Do I Need to Qualify?

There is a range of symptoms that you might experience when you have Crohn’s disease, and they all might affect your ability to work differently. Inflammatory bowel disease can be found in section 5.06 of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) “Blue Book,” This manual lists a variety of medical conditions, as well as the requirements needed to qualify for benefits under these circumstances.

According to the “Blue Book,” here are some signs that your Crohn’s disease might qualify you for disability benefits:

  • Some people with Crohn’s disease may experiences blockages in their intestines due to scar tissue. These blockages may result in the need for hospitalization or surgery. If you experience an intestinal blockage on at least two occasions, you may qualify for social security benefits.
  • If you have intestinal bleeding that causes low red blood cells, or anemia, you may be eligible for benefits from the SSA.
  • Crohn’s disease often causes diarrhea, fecal incontinence, and rectal bleeding. These symptoms will likely make it very difficult to do your job. If you are affected by these symptoms on a consistent basis, you may qualify for SSDI benefits.
  • Crohn’s disease can cause severe pain and cramping in the abdomen. Additionally, you may have inflamed loops of bowel that create a mass in your stomach. If you experience frequent pain that is unable to be relieved by medications, as well as a palpable mass, you may be considered for disability benefits.
  • Often, people with Crohn’s disease experience weight loss as a result of the illness. If you experience a 10% weight loss from your baseline weight, which is documented by a Physician on at least two visits, you may qualify for benefits.
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases often affect other body systems. If your Crohn’s disease does not meet the criteria of section 5.06, the SSA will consider the involvement of other body systems as related to your illness. For example, if you suffer from kidney stones or gallstones, the SSA will take into consideration the relationship of those extra-intestinal manifestations of your illness.
  • One of the most common side-effects of Crohn’s disease is depression or other mood disorders. If you suffer from extreme sadness, anxiety, or other mood related illnesses related to your illness, you might be considered for benefits under Section 12.00 of the “Blue Book.”

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. The challenge with Crohn’s disease is that sometimes symptoms come and go.

Both you and your physician will need to keep accurate notes of your symptoms. As previously mentioned, Crohn’s disease is a progressive illness that is unlikely to get better over time. The level of disability that you are currently experiencing is, unfortunately, likely to decline over time.

What Information Will I Need to Provide?

When applying for Social Security, you may be asked to provide the following:

  • Confirmation of your diagnosis of Crohn’s disease from a doctor, preferably a Gastroenterologist
  • Blood lab work including protein levels, RBCs, WBCs, blood sedimentation rates
  • All imaging results including Barium x-rays and CT scans
  • Endoscopy results such as a colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, or video capsule endoscopy
  • Any biopsy results
  • Surgical records, if performed
  • Additional notes from other health care providers helping you with your condition, such as documentation from your Psychologist, Physical Therapist, Social Worker, etc.

You should speak with your doctor’s office, hospital, or other health-care providers if you are missing any of the above medical reports.

The more medical evidence that you have on your side, the better your chances of receiving SSDI benefits for Crohn’s disease.

What’s Next?

If you have been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and you believe that you may qualify for Social Security benefits, you should contact a disability advocate or lawyer in your area. Crohn’s disease is a life-altering illness.

While you focus on your health, a qualified attorney can help guide you through the Social Security application process.