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How Disabling is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Approximately 1.5 million people in the United States live with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The intensity and severity of the disease is different for everyone. While some people may only have minor fatigue and aches, others are completely wheelchair-bound.

If you have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, there could be financial help available to you if you are unable to work. The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program was created to assist those who have become disabled due to an illness such as rheumatoid arthritis.

What Exactly Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. In a healthy person, an immune system is designed to help protect the person from getting sick. However, those with an autoimmune disease have a faulty immune system.

Instead of protecting their bodies, their immune systems attack the healthy cells in their bodies by mistake. This attack causes swelling and pain, also called inflammation.

Rheumatoid arthritis mainly attacks the joints of the body such as the hands, wrists, knees, and feet. In more severe cases, it can also affect other parts of the body such as the heart, lungs, and kidneys.

Rheumatoid arthritis is considered a progressive disease, meaning that for most people it tends to get worse over time. This means that some people may not initially qualify for SSDI benefits, but they may be able to qualify once the disease progresses.

While there is no known cure for RA, there are many possible treatments to help slow the progression and severity. These treatments could include diet modifications, medications, and physical therapy.

What Symptoms Do I Need to Qualify?

There are a range of symptoms that can be expected when you have rheumatoid arthritis, and they all might affect your ability to work. Here are some signs that your RA might help you qualify for disability benefits:

  • Persistent swelling or pain might make it difficult to perform many tasks with your arms and hands. For example, typing or carrying an object may become painful and challenging.
  • Pain, stiffness, or difficulty moving could affect the joints of your lower body, making it difficult to walk. You may need to use a cane, walker, or wheelchair to get around. If your job requires any time on your feet, you may experience difficulty moving.
  • Rheumatoid nodules, or small lumps, may form under your skin over bony areas. These nodules may not be painful, but they can make it harder to move. If you cannot perform fine and dexterous movements, such as typing on a computer, you may qualify for SSDI benefits.
  • If your organs become affected by RA, you could begin to experience fever, weight loss, fatigue, and a general feeling of illness, making it difficult to function as you normally have. This is especially true if you have a labor-intensive job.

If your doctor puts you on medications for RA, you may experience some side effects that may affect your quality of life.

  • Medications designed to suppress your over-active immune system may put you at higher risk for other infections. They might also cause high blood pressure, weight gain, high blood sugar, and bone loss. While weight gain alone will not qualify for disability benefits, it can be factored into your claim along with a myriad of other symptoms or complications.
  • NSAIDS used to reduce inflammation and pain may cause severe stomach problems such as heartburn, acid reflux, nausea, and in severe cases, bleeding from the lining of your stomach.
  • Other medications used to slow RA, such as methotrexate, might cause fatigue, headaches, and a generalized fog. In some cases, liver damage may occur.
How Disabling is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

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, RA is a progressive illness that is unlikely to get better over time. Unfortunately, that means that your mobility may continue to decline.

What Information Will I Need to Provide?

When applying for Social Security, you may be asked to provide the following documents for your claim

  • Confirmation of your diagnosis of RA from a doctor.
  • Blood tests confirming your diagnosis of RA, which may include a positive ANA or a positive rheumatoid factor test.
  • X-rays, MRIs, or other imaging results that may help to confirm your diagnosis of RA.
  • Notes from your doctor, physical therapist, or other health care provider that describe your symptoms and illness.

You should speak with your doctor if you are missing any of the above medical reports. The more medical evidence you have on your side, the better your odds of receiving SSDI benefits for RA.

What’s Next?

If you have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis 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.