How Disabling is Kidney Disease?

Approximately 30 million people in the United States suffer from Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). There are various types of kidney disease, and all produce a broad range of symptoms. In its early stages, kidney disease may not exhibit any symptoms.

However, as it progresses, it can severely affect one’s ability to function. Another name for kidney disease is renal disease, and the terms are used interchangeably.

If you have kidney disease, there could be financial help available to you, but only if you are too ill to earn a gainful living. The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program was created to assist those who have become disabled due to an illness such as kidney disease.

What Exactly Is Kidney Disease?

The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs that are located in on each side of your spine in the back of the abdomen. Your kidneys work very hard to filter your blood by removing waste products and turning them into urine.

Your kidneys are also in charge of regulating blood volume and blood pressure. They assist in making red blood cells and in making vitamin D. Kidney disease is caused by many different factors with diabetes and high blood pressure being the two of the most common causes.

When a sudden injury happens to the kidneys, it is said to be acute. Acute kidney injury, such as a kidney stone, tends to come on quickly and resolve relatively quickly.

Chronic kidney disease occurs when the injury or illness lasts over three months and is often called the “silent killer,” as symptoms don’t usually show up until the disease has significantly progressed.

There are five stages of kidney disease. Stages I and II can be reversible with lifestyle changes and medication. By stage III, half of the kidney function is lost. Stage V is considered kidney failure, or end-stage renal disease (ESRD).

Treatment of kidney disease begins with treating the cause. In some instances, lifestyle and diet changes may help to stop the progression. However, in most cases, kidney disease is not curable. In advanced cases, dialysis or a kidney transplant may be the only option.

What Symptoms Do I Need to Qualify?

There is a range of symptoms that can be expected when you have kidney disease, and they all might affect your ability to work differently. The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses their “Blue Book” manual to determine eligibility.

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

  • If you have the need for ongoing dialysis that is expected to last at least one year, you will be considered for financial assistance.
  • If you have had a kidney transplant, you will qualify for benefits from one year to the date of the transplant, and then you will be evaluated at that point for your ability to work.
  • Some people with kidney disease begin to lose bone. If you have severe bone pain or limitations in your movement related to your illness, it may be difficult to perform any job that requires you to stand, walk, or lift objects. If this is the case, you may be eligible for help from the SSA.
  • If the kidneys are unable to filter the blood, your body may be unable to release toxins. As a result, you may experience nerve pain, weakness, muscle aches, or tingling. If you have these symptoms and they are expected to last at least a year, you will be considered for help.
  • As the kidneys regulate the fluid in your body, you will be considered for benefits if you develop signs of fluid overload syndrome. These symptoms may include shortness of breath, severe swelling in the abdomen, high blood pressure, or fatigue. You may also be considered if you have severe swelling throughout the body, also called edema.
  • If you experience significant weight loss or diminished appetite which results in a large amount of unintended weight loss, you may be considered eligible for benefits from social security.
  • The kidneys are related to many of the other organ systems in the body. Therefore, you may experience related complications such as stroke or heart failure. If these conditions develop and you require hospitalization, you may qualify for disability benefits.
  • If your kidney is functioning so poorly that your lab values, such as albumin or creatinine, are extremely elevated over time, you will be considered for social security benefits.
  • If you develop kidney failure as a result of liver disease or if you develop nephrogenic systematic fibrosis, you will likely qualify for a quick review of your case under the Compassionate Allowance program.
  • Kidney disease can cause fatigue and confusion. If you are unable to carry out simple instructions, respond appropriately to direction, or manage your work routine due to these symptoms, you may qualify for benefits.

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 kidney disease needs to be disabling for at least 12 months. As previously mentioned, kidney 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.

What Information Will I Need to Provide?

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

  • Confirmation of your diagnosis and stage of kidney disease from a Physician, including your treatments and prognosis.
  • Blood tests confirming your diagnosis and showing the progression of your illness. Of particular importance will include creatinine, BUN, and GFR, however as the kidneys affect many functions of the body, all lab results are important.
  • Urine tests showing protein in the urine (urinalysis).
  • X-rays, MRIs, or other imaging results that may show kidney abnormalities.
  • Surgical notes, biopsy results, or pathology reports, if you have had any.
  • Physician notes from other specialties that may be caring for you such as cardiology, neurology, or orthopedics.
  • Dialysis notes, if indicated.

You should speak to your doctor or hospital if you are missing any medical reports. It is better to have too much information than to have too little. The more information you have on your side, the easier the social security benefits process will be.

What’s Next?

If you have been diagnosed with kidney disease 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.

Additional Resources

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