Various types of heart disease and cardiovascular problems qualify for disability through the Social Security Administration (SSA), if they cause severe limitations in what the patient can do. Generally, the SSA will look at whether you've had poor exercise tolerance tests showing that you can't do much physical exertion without fatigue or angina, imaging results or other test results showing abnormalities of the heart muscle or the vessels leading to heart, or whether you've been hospitalized several times in the past year.
Here are the most common heart conditions for which people apply for Social Security disability benefits (SSD/SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI, the needs-based program).
Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary artery disease occurs when the arteries become clogged and narrowed and restrict blood flow to the heart, a condition known as atherosclerosis. Without adequate blood, the heart becomes starved of oxygen, and this oxygen deprivation causes a cramping of the heart muscle, which is known as ischemia.
Coronary artery disease is diagnosed by electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), exercise stress tests, and cardiac catheterization (generally referred to as a cath, which will reveal the level of blockage in a main artery).
If you have coronary heart disease, you'll need to show the SSA that you suffer from angina and that you've had abnormal exercise stress tests or imaging results or that you've had several angioplasty or bypass surgeries. For the details, see our article on disability benefits for coronary artery disease.
Congestive Heart Failure
Congestive heart failure (CHF), or heart failure, is an aspect of heart disease where blood returning to the heart through the veins backs up, causing congestion in the tissues. This occurs because the heart can't pump enough blood to the body's other organs. Often swelling (edema) results, as this heart condition affects the kidneys' ability to dispose of sodium and water. Sometimes fluid collects in the lungs and interferes with breathing, causing shortness of breath, especially when a person is lying down. People 40 and older have a 1 in 5 chance of developing CHF in their lifetimes.
CHF is often diagnosed during a physical examination, at which time a doctor can listen to your chest with a stethoscope for the crackling sounds of fluid in the lungs, heart murmur, or the presence of a very quick heartbeat. A doctor may tap on the chest to find out if fluid has built up.
A chest x-ray can reveal an enlarged heart or the presence of fluid around the lungs. Electrocardiography (ECG or EKG) is used to check for an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), stress on the heart, or past heart attack. Echocardiography is used to determine valve function, heart wall motion, and overall size of the heart.
To get disability benefits for CHF, you'll have to show the SSA that you have a poor ejection fraction or abnormal imaging results, plus a poor exercise stress test or several episodes of heart failure that required hospitalization in the past year. For the details, see our article on disability benefits for congestive heart failure.
Arteriosclerosis, commonly called "hardening of the arteries," is an aspect of heart disease that occurs when fatty or calcium deposits in the artery walls cause them to thicken. This condition is apparently an inevitable result of aging; the walls of blood vessels become stiffer as time passes, as does all connective tissue of the body.
Arteriosclerosis is a term that actually comprises a group of coronary diseases. These diseases often occur in people who have had diabetes for a long time.
The most well known result of this condition is heart attack, also called myocardial infarction. In most heart attacks, both atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis are present. Atherosclerosis causes plaque build up in the arteries, and arteriosclerosis stiffens the arteries so that they cannot expand to compensate for the blockage caused by plaque formation. Blood flow through the heart is restricted by the obstruction caused by the plaque. The SSA evaluates whether arteriosclerosis or artherosclerosis qualifies for disability benefits under its ischemic heart disease listing. For more information, see our article on disability benefits for coronary artery disease.
An aneurysm is a bulge in part of an artery that stems from weakness in the wall of the blood vessel. If an aneurysm ruptures, it can cause fatal bleeding. Aneurysms can occur in the aorta, the brain, or other arteries. To get disability benefits for an aneurysm, you'll have to show that it's too risky for you to exert yourself because imaging tests show that you have an aneurysm that is separating from the artery wall, meaning that it is at risk of rupturing. For the details, see our article on disability benefits for aneurysms.
Other cardiovascular disorders can be found in our section on disability for heart and cardiovascular conditions.