Raynaud’s disease is a condition where the arteries that supply blood to the skin become narrowed, limiting blood circulation to certain body parts - most commonly the fingers, toes, nose, and ears. During a Raynaud’s attack, the affected body areas usually feel numb and cold, and they may appear white or blue. As circulation returns, they may turn red and throb, tingle, or swell. A Raynaud’s attack may last anywhere from seconds to hours. Over time, Raynaud’s can cause these arteries to swell, further limiting blood flow and causing the skin to have a pale appearance.
There is also a condition known as Raynaud’s phenomena, or secondary Raynaud’s. This is where symptoms of Raynaud’s disease are experienced due to another medical condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, scleroderma, or lupus. Raynaud's is a type of peripheral artery disease.
Complications of Raynaud’s disease include ulcers (including chilblains, or pernio), infections, or gangrene in an affected body part. Rarely, the blood flow becomes permanently blocked, causing deformities and usually requiring amputation.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Raynaud's Disease
Raynaud’s disease, sometimes called white finger or dead finger, is usually diagnosed based on a patient’s self-reporting of their symptoms. Most doctors will perform tests to rule out other conditions. To distinguish between Raynaud’s disease and Raynaud’s phenomena, a doctor might examine capillaries from the base of the fingernail – if these are enlarged or deformed, this can indicate a secondary condition.
Most mild cases of Raynaud’s disease require only self-treatment to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks (such as making sure to keep the extremities warm.) Sometimes medications are prescribed to help dilate blood vessels. In the most severe Raynaud’s disease cases, nerve surgery or chemical injections can be used.
Qualifying for Disability Benefits with Raynaud’s Disease
For many people, Raynaud’s disease is merely an intermittent but painful inconvenience. However, for those with severe cases of Raynaud’s disease, with Raynaud’s phenomena in conjunction with another condition, or with complications from Raynaud's such as ulcers, infections, or gangrene, the experience can be painful and limiting. If the pain and limitations from Raynaud's prevent you from working, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits.
In order to qualify for Social Security disability, you must prove to the Social Security Administration (SSA) that you are unable to perform consistent full-time work due to your illness. Although there are specific qualification criteria set forth for some common conditions in the SSA’s Impairment Listings, disability benefits can be awarded for any number of conditions.
When you apply for disability due to Raynaud’s disease, your application will be sent to your state’s Disability Determination Services (DDS) office. Here, a claims examiner will review your application, obtain and review additional evidence, and eventually make a decision on whether or not to approve your application for disability benefits.
Residual Functional Capacity
As part of this determination, the claims examiner will assess your "Residual Functional Capacity" (RFC). Your RFC indicates the most difficult level of exertional work that you are capable of -- either sedentary, light, medium, or heavy -- given your limitations. While Raynaud's may not affect your ability to do heavy exertional work, if you have ulcerations on your fingers from Raynaud's, you may not be able to lift, carry, grasp, or push or pull items. These non-exertional limitations can restrict the types of jobs you can do. In addition, your doctor might have restricted you from exposure to cold or vibrations, which would further limit the types of jobs you can do. For some, severe pain from Raynaud's causes them to lose concentration; if this is true for you, the claims examiner should consider whether this could interfere with your ability to do many types of sedentary work.
Learn more about how Social Security uses your RFC to determine eligibility for disability benefits.
Once your RFC is established, your case will be reviewed against the “Medical-Vocational Guidelines.” Using your RFC, along with your age, level of education, and type of prior work, you will fall somewhere within these “grid” guidelines, which will result in a finding of disabled or not disabled. Using the Med-Voc Guidelines, you will have a greater chance of being found disabled if you are over the age of 50 or 55, and if you have less education or a history of unskilled labor. Read more about the Med-Voc Guidelines.
One situation where you could theoretically be granted disability benefits is when your prior job was working in a cold environment such as stocking freezers or working outside in the winter. This is considered a "unique feature." If your doctor says you can no longer do this type of work, and you are older (over 55), you have no transferable job skills, and you have little education, Social Security may be required to grant you benefits through a "medical-vocational allowance." Otherwise, it's uncommon for disability applicants with Raynaud's to be granted disability benefits unless they also have a related connective tissue disease or other serious impairments.
Medical Evidence Required When Proving Disability Due to Raynaud’s Disease
In order for your Social Security disability claim to be approved, the evidence in your file will need to show that, due to your condition(s), you are unable to work. When evaluating your claim, the SSA will be most concerned with how the symptoms and side-effects that you experience limit your ability to perform normal everyday activities.
To get an accurate picture of the effects of your Raynaud’s Disease, the SSA will compile many types of evidence. They may send you, your family members, or your doctors paperwork to complete, interview you by telephone, or send you to be examined by a Social Security doctor. However, the most important pieces of the puzzle are the medical records from your treating providers.
For your disability claim to have the best chance of being approved due to Raynaud’s Disease, your medical file should contain a few specific things, including:
- A Raynaud’s Disease diagnosis
- Records that show you have obtained consistent treatment
- A history of what treatments you have tried and what the outcome was
- Doctors notes indicating the severity of your symptoms
- Records from any hospitalizations due to Raynaud’s Disease
- A report from your doctor indicating that you are unable to work and why, and
- Records covering any other conditions that you may have that limit your ability to work, whether or not they are related to the Raynaud’s Disease.
Applying for Social Security Disability Due to Raynaud’s Disease
The easiest way to apply for Social Security disability benefits is by calling the SSA at 888-772-1213. A customer service representative will schedule a time for you to either go to your local SSA to apply or apply over the phone. You can also apply for SSDI online at www.ssa.gov (but not SSI).
No matter how you apply, you will need to have certain information on hand at the time that you complete the disability application, including the medical providers' contact information and dates for all medical treatment you’ve obtained.
Once your application is routed to DDS, you will receive a letter notifying you of your claims examiner's name and phone number. Any questions should be directed to your claims examiner. For more information, see our section on applying for Social Security disability benefits.