Social Security Disability for Dysautonomia: Filing and Getting Benefits

If the symptoms of your dysautonomia severely impact your ability to work, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.

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Dysautonomia describes any disorder of the autonomic nervous system. (The autonomic nervous system controls the operation of organs and functions as body temperature, heart rate, digestion, and blood pressure.) Some autonomic dysfunction disorders are:

  • postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)
  • pure autonomic failure (PAF)
  • orthostatic hypertension
  • multiple system atrophy (MSA)
  • inappropriate sinus tachycardia (IST)
  • neurocardiogenic syncope (NCS), and
  • neurally mediated hypotension (NMH).

Because dysautonmia disorders can affect any body system, the symptoms of dysautonomia and their severity differ widely among patients.Symptoms can include fatigue, fainting, digestive disorders, headaches, nerve and muscle pain, orthostatic hypotension (blood pressure fall when standing up), anxiety, significant sleep disorders, and sensory disorders. 

Can I Get Disability for My Dysautonomia?

The affect of dysautonomia depends on the specific dysautonomic disorder the patient suffers from. Although many dysautonomic disorders can be managed, some dysautonomic disorders can be disabling and eventually fatal.

When you first file for disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will look at your impairment to see if it meets the requirements of one of the medical conditions in its listing of impairments; if it does, your claim will be automatically approved. If it does not, the SSA will continue its analysis to see whether you are eligible for disability because you can't work due to the limitations caused by your dysautonomic disorder.

Dysautonomic disorders are the not the subject of a disability listing, so the SSA must determine if the symptoms you experience prevent you from working. To do this, the SSA will carefully review your medical records and prepare a residual functional capacity assessment (RFC) that discusses in detail how your symptoms affect your ability to perform certain work-related activities.

For example, if you suffer from neurocardiogenic syncope (NCS), prolonged sitting or standing can induce fainting. Given this severe limitation, your RFC might state that you would be unable to perform any jobs that required sitting or standing for any length of time, unless you were given the opportunity to lay down as you needed. Because of the severity of this restriction and the unlikelihood that any employer could accommodate you, you would likely be approved for disability. At the least, your RFC should restrict you from heavy lifting and working around dangerous machinery, since the possibility of fainting during this activities puts you and others in danger.

As another example, individuals with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) suffer from fainting, intense fatigue, and severe tachycardia (racing heart) upon standing and when performing basic chores such as housework. Therefore, an RFC for a disability claimant with POTS might state that the individual would be unable to perform jobs that required light levels of exertion such as janitorial positions, restaurant work, light warehouse work, and some secretarial positions.

After completing your RFC, the SSA will combine it with your past job skills, education, and age to see whether there are any jobs you can safely do. For the details of how the SSA makes this assessment, see our section on RFCs.

Compassionate Allowance

Some dysautonomic disorders rapidly progress and shorten a person's lifespan. Because of their severity and poor prognosis, these dysautonomic disorders qualify for automatic approval based on what the SSA calls a compassionate allowance.

An example of one such dysautonomic disorder is multiple system atrophy, or MSA. If you suffer from MSA, advise the SSA of your diagnosis as soon as you apply, and provide them with your complete medical history as it relates to your MSA. For more information, see our article on compassionate allowances.

Other Disability Requirements

In order to be eligible for disability, you may not earn more than $1,070 a month, and your illness must be serious enough to prevent you from earning that amount for at least 12 consecutive months.

SSDI. To receive SSDI, you must have a significant work history with employers that paid taxes to the SSA. For more information, see our section on SSDI eligibility.

SSI. SSI is available to people who do not have a qualifying work history; however, you must meet certain asset and income limits to qualify. For more information, see our section on SSI eligibility.

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