An aneurysm is an abnormal swelling or ballooning of a part of an artery due to damage or weakness in the wall of the blood vessel. (The arteries are the blood vessels that transport blood away from the heart to other parts of the body.) If an aneurysm grows too large, it can rupture and cause bleeding, which can be fatal.
Aneurysms occur most commonly in the aorta, the largest artery in the body, which carries blood away from the left side of the heart. They also often occur in an artery in the brain (cerebral aneurysm). If a brain aneurysm bursts, it can cause a stroke. "Peripheral aneurysms" occur in other arteries, such as in the popliteal artery (behind the knee), the mesenteric artery (intestine), and in the splenic artery (an artery in the spleen).
Symptoms and Causes of Aneurysms
In the early stages, most aneurysms within the body are asymptomatic. However, sometimes an aneurysm can be felt as a throbbing mass if it is located near the body's surface. If an aneurysm ruptures, symptoms that can occur include a rapid heart rate, pain, lightheadedness, and nausea and vomiting.
Causes of aneurysms include atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), Marfan syndrome (a disorder of the connective tissues), trauma to the body, cystic medial necrosis (a disorder of large arteries involving loss of elastic tissue and muscle and the accumulation of mucoid material), and constant high blood pressure inside an artery.
People who suffer from an aneurysm may not be able to perform work activities, let alone daily tasks. An aneurysm can be life-threatening, and treatment may not always keep it under control.
How to Qualify for Disability Benefits With an Aneurysm
You may qualify for disability benefits if your aneurysm is severe enough to meet or equal the criteria of Listing 4.10, Aneurysms, of the official Listing of Impairments published by the Social Security Administration (SSA). If your condition doesn't meet or equal the requirements of the listed impairment, you may still qualify for disability if you can show that your aneurysm has resulted in reducing your functional capacity to the point that you are unable to work.
Meeting the Listing for an Aneurysm
The listing for aneursyms addresses aneurysm of the aorta or major branches. To meet this listing, your aneurysm can be due to any cause, but it must:
- be demonstrated by appropriate medically acceptable imaging tests, and
- showing "dissection" that is not controlled by prescribed treatment.
Dissection is when the inner arterial lining begins to separate from the wall of the artery. An aneurysm that is dissecting is at risk for rupturing. An aneurysm with dissection is considered not controlled by treatment when you have:
- persistent chest pain
- increase in size of the aneurysm, or
- compression of at least one branch of the aorta supplying organs, such as the heart, brain, or kidneys.
If you can demonstrate through the medical evidence that your aneurysm meets all of the above requirements, you will qualify for disability benefits.
In addition, an aneurysm that is separating from the artery wall can cause other medical conditions, such as heart failure, renal (kidney) failure, or stroke. If you have one of these conditions, it would be evaluated under the SSA listing for that particular condition.
Medical Evidence of Disability Due to Aneurysm
Your medical evidence should include a diagnosis of your aneurysm, demonstrated by an appropriate imaging technique such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, a computed tomography (CT) scan, angiography, or ultrasound. In addition to a diagnosis, the evidence should include signs and symptoms, and a description of any prescribed treatment and your response to such treatment.
The signs and symptoms of an aneurysm depend on its type and location. For example, if you have an abdominal aortic aneurysm, your doctor may have felt a throbbing mass while examining your abdomen. Symptoms can include a deep pain in your back or side, a steady pain in your abdomen, and numbness or tingling in your feet. Symptoms from a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm can include severe pain in your back or lower abdomen, nausea and vomiting, lightheadedness, clammy skin, and a rapid heart rate when standing up.
If you have a cerebral aneurysm, your symptoms can include numbness or weakness on one side of your face or body, double vision, a droopy eyelid, and eye pain. Symptoms from a ruptured cerebral aneurysm can include a stiff neck, a sudden, severe headache, nausea and vomiting, and loss of consciousness.
If you have a peripheral aneurysm, your symptoms can include leg or arm pain, a throbbing lump felt in your leg, arm or neck, painful sores on your fingers or toes, and gangrene (due to blocked blood flow in the limbs).
For cardiovascular impairments in general, the SSA looks for a longitudinal clinical record of at least 3 months of treatment and observations. Your medical records should include descriptions of the type of treatment you have received and your response to treatment. The two kinds of treatment for an aneurysm are surgery and medication. Many people who have surgery to repair their aneurysm will not meet Listing 4.10 because their condition will be improved. However, even after surgery, some people may have a reduced functional capacity which interferes with their ability to work. Moreover, if you are on medication to reduce blood pressure or relax the blood vessels to prevent rupture of the aneurysm, you may also have a reduced functional capacity.
Reduced Functional Capacity Due to Aneurysm
If you suffer from an aneurysm but do not meet the requirements in the aneurysm listing, the SSA must still consider whether you qualify for disability benefits based on your reduced functional capacity to do work activities. If the SSA determines that you cannot perform your past job or a less demanding job, you will be found disabled.
The SSA must assess what is called your residual functional capacity (RFC) before determining whether you can still work. Your RFC is the most work activity that you can safely do on a regular and continuing basis despite the limitations resulting from your impairment (such as sedentary work or light work). Based on your RFC, the SSA will decide whether you can return to performing a past job.
In the case of an aneurysm, the SSA will give you an RFC allowing a medium level of activity or lower. Your treating doctor or an examining doctor might be of the opinion that you should have a light RFC instead.
Most likely, if you have an aneurysm that is large and has not been repaired by surgery, you should not be given an RFC that is higher than light work, which involves the ability to lift or carry up to 20 pounds. However, if you are at a higher risk of your aneurysm rupturing due to uncontrolled high blood pressure, you might be given an RFC for sedentary work, which does not require lifting or carrying more than 10 pounds.
On the other hand, you have had successful surgical repair of an aneurysm, you may be found to have no particular work restrictions.
Medical-Vocational Allowance for Aneurysm
If the SSA agrees you are unable to perform any of your past jobs, the SSA will consider your age, education, and work experience along with your RFC to decide if there are other jobs in the U.S. that you can do. If it decides there are not, you should qualify for disability through a medical-vocational allowance.
How to Apply for Disability with the Social Security Administration
If you believe you may be disabled due to an aneurysm, contact your local SSA office to set up an appointment to submit an application for disability benefits. You can call the SSA at (800) 772-1213 to speak with a claims representative. The representative will be able to help you complete your application and can assist you in obtaining all of the relevant information in support of your claim.
If you've already been denied disability benefits, you may want to contact a local disability lawyer.