Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that is characterized by dry eyes and a dry mouth. As well as having dry eyes and a dry mouth, people with Sjogren’s syndrome also sometimes experience prolonged fatigue, skin rashes, a persistent cough, swollen salivary glands, involuntary weight loss, malaise, and joint pain. Sjogren’s syndrome may progress from causing dry eyes and dry mouth to damaging other parts of the body, such as kidneys, liver, lungs, and nerves. People with Sjogren’s syndrome often have other immune system disorders, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
While some people with Sjogren's disorder have only mild symptoms of dry eyes and mouth that they are able to treat, others have disabling symptoms such as blurred vision; difficulty swallowing, eating, and speaking; and debilitating fatigue and joint pain. Individuals with severe symptoms can get disability benefits either by meeting the requirements of Social Security's disability listing for Sjogren's syndrome, meeting a related disability listing such as the listing for lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, or by showing that their limitations are so severe that they rule out work.
Qualifying for Disability Under the Listing for Sjogren’s Syndrome
In order to meet the SSA' disability listing for Sjogren’s syndrome, your condition must fall into one of the the two following scenarios:
- The Sjogren’s syndrome must affect at least two body organs or systems, such as the eyes and the digestive system, and
- The Sjogren’s syndrome must cause at least two of the following symptoms.
- frequent fatigue resulting in low activity
- frequent fever
- malaise (feelings of physical discomfort resulting in low activity), and/or
- significant weight loss.
- Sjogren’s syndrome with at least two of the above symptoms, repeatedly, and
- Severe limitations in one of the following:
- activities of daily living, like eating, cooking, bathing, or grocery shopping
- maintaining social functioning
- ability to finish tasks quickly due to lack of focus or persistence.
Qualifying for Disability Under Other Listings
As discussed above, many people with Sjogren’s syndrome have other immune system disorders, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. If you suffer from another impairment that causes limitations in your ability to function, you may qualify for disability under those other listings. The SSA does have specific listings for inflammatory (rheumatoid) arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus.
Some people with Sjogren’s syndrome also develop kidney and liver problems (including cirrhosis), as well as peripheral neuropathy (tingling and numbness in your hands and feet). If you have complications from Sjogren’s syndrome, you should be evaluated under the appropriate listing for the body part or organ that is affected. (To read our articles about the other disability listings, visit the above links.)
Qualifying for Disability Based on Functional Limitations
If you have a diagnosis of Sjogren’s syndrome but don’t meet the criteria under the listings discussed above, the SSA will look at your “residual functional capacity,” or “RFC.” Your RFC represents what kind of work you are still capable of doing despite the limitations from your medical conditions and any treatments you may be prescribed because of your impairments.
If you have Sjogren’s syndrome, your RFC might include limitations based on symptoms directly caused by Sjogren’s syndrome, and it might be based on the limitations from other, related impairments. For example, you might have limitations on doing work that involves unimpaired vision or exposure to a bright environment, as Sjogren’s syndrome can cause blurred vision and light sensitivity. If you also have rheumatoid arthritis, depending on where in your body the arthritis is located, you may have limitations on work that requires pushing, pulling, lifting, or grasping, or you might have limitations on how long you can stand and walk.
If the SSA finds that the limitations in your RFC aren't so severe that they should keep you from working, the SSA will deny your claim. But if the SSA determines that the symptoms associated with your Sjogren's syndrome are so limiting that there is no work you can do, you will be awarded benefits under a “medical-vocational allowance.” For more information, see our article on RFCs and medical-vocational allowances.