Your thyroid is an important gland, located in your neck, that produces hormones that help regulate your body's metabolism (how your body uses energy.) When your thyroid is malfunctioning, it can have an impact on many different body systems. You might have difficulty with breathing, digestion, and heart function.
While thyroid disorders are often successfully treated with hormone supplements, if you have complications from a thyroid disease that keeps you from working full-time, you might qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.
Thyroid diseases occur when your thyroid gland is either too active, a condition called hyperthyroidism (the prefix hyper means "above normal") or not active enough, a condition called hypothyroidism (the prefix hypo means "below normal").
Also known as thyrotoxicosis—because the thyroid produces an excessive amount of a hormone called thyroxine—hyperthyroidism can result in changes in your physical appearance such as having an enlarged, bulbous thyroid gland (goiter) and protruding eyes.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
More severe instances of hyperthyroidism can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, and muscle weakness. Hyperthyroidism is commonly caused by an autoimmune disorder called Graves' disease.
Thyroid hormones are necessary to control metabolism, so when the thyroid gland isn't producing enough thyroid hormones, the results are far-reaching. Hypothyroidism can also result in changes to your physical appearance, such as coarse hair and skin. Severely advanced hypothyroidism is called myxedema and, without medical attention, can result in coma.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
Hypothyroidism can be caused by an autoimmune disorder known as Hashimoto's disease, which causes the body's immune system to attack the thyroid gland. Other causes include pituitary gland failure, congenital defects, irradiation, inflammatory conditions, or thyroid removal.
Many people are able to successfully control their thyroid disease with medication with little, if any, impact on their activities of daily living. But if you struggle to control your thyroid disease (or related complications) to the extent that you're unable to work full-time for at least twelve months, you might qualify for Social Security disability benefits.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) maintains a classification of disorders—the Listing of Impairments, or "Blue Book"—that the agency considers especially serious. Disability applicants whose medical records contain specific evidence of one of these listed impairments can get benefits automatically, without having to show that no jobs exist that they can do.
The SSA has a section for endocrine (hormonal) disorders, including thyroid disease. But unlike other listings, Social Security doesn't evaluate thyroid diseases solely according to the hormonal imbalances they cause. Instead, the SSA will evaluate complications from thyroid disease under the category of listings related to the body system most affected by the hormonal imbalance.
Thyroid cancer does have its own listing (13.09). To meet this listing, you'll likely need to show that your thyroid cancer has spread to other parts of your body. But if you have a rare, aggressive type of thyroid cancer known as anaplastic carcinoma, you can meet this listing (and be awarded benefits quickly) under Social Security's Compassionate Allowances program.
If your thyroid disorder doesn't cause complications severe enough to meet a related listing, you can still qualify for disability benefits if you don't have the residual functional capacity (RFC) to work a full-time job. Your RFC is a set of restrictions that reflect the most you're capable of doing, physically and mentally, in a work setting.
The SSA reviews your medical records and your functional limitations to determine what you can do at work and what you should avoid. For people with thyroid disease, restrictions in your RFC might include:
All restrictions need to be based on evidence in your medical records, so make sure that you let your doctor know when you're experiencing symptoms related to your thyroid disease. Anything that you leave out in your medical visits won't make it into your RFC, and Social Security uses your RFC to decide whether any jobs exist that you can do.
The agency also must consider the effect of all your impairments combined when determining whether you're disabled, so let the SSA know the names, locations, and dates for treatment for all your medical providers.
Social Security provides several methods for you to start your application for benefits.
Even if you're just starting your initial application for disability benefits, consider getting help from an experienced disability attorney or advocate. Your lawyer can help gather and submit your medical documents, handle communications with the SSA, and represent you at a disability hearing.
Updated August 25, 2023