Arteritis: Can I Get Disability Benefits?

When arteritis starts limiting your functioning, you may be able to get Social Security disability benefits for it.

By , Contributing Author

Arteritis is the inflammation of your arteries, blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the rest of your body. Arteritis is a form of vasculitis, and can be diagnosed with angiography (MRA) or tissue biopsy.

Symptoms and Types of Arteritis

There are two types of arteritis: giant cell arteritis and Takayasu's arteritis. The possible complications from the two types of arteritis differ.

Giant cell arteritis, commonly referred to as temporal arteritis, is an inflammation of the arteries most often in the head and especially in the temples. This is the most common type of arteritis.

Symptoms of temporal arteritis may include:

  • persistent and severe head pain, usually in the temple area.
  • severe scalp tenderness. The pain can be so severe that brushing your hair or laying your head on a pillow may be unbearable.
  • vision problems, including loss of vision or double vision
  • sudden, permanent loss of vision in one eye
  • fever
  • jaw pain when chewing or opening your mouth, or
  • unexplained weight loss.

While prompt treatment can often prevent permanent damage, there are complications that may arise if not caught early enough, including:

Takayasu's arteritis is a rare form of arteritis that causes damage primarily to the aorta, which is the large artery that carries blood away from the heart to the rest of the body. As this disease progresses, symptoms may include:

  • weakness in the legs and/or arms
  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • memory problems
  • vision problems
  • anemia, and
  • high blood pressure.

In severe cases of Takayasu's arteritis, there can be significant complications, including:

  • hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels, which decreases the body's ability to transport blood throughout the body
  • inflammation of the heart
  • heart attack
  • heart failure
  • stroke
  • aneurysm, and
  • breathing problems.

Qualifying for Disability Benefits

If the symptoms of your arteritis are severe enough to affect your ability to function or work, you may be eligible for disability benefits, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). There are two ways in which you can qualify for Social Security disability benefits: by meeting the requirements of a "listing" or proving your medical condition makes you unable to work.

To meet a listing, you must have a disability that is listed in the Social Security "Blue Book," which lists impairments for which individuals can automatically qualify for disability benefits. In addition to showing that you have a specific impairment in the Blue Book, you must meet all of the requirements under that impairment's listing to qualify for benefits.

If you don't meet a listing, you can qualify for benefits by proving you're unable to work. Social Security will consider your physical, mental, and sensory strengths and weaknesses in considering your ability to work. Your age, education level, and work experience may also be factors in determining if you are able to work and the level of employment that is possible for you.

Meeting a Listing

Social Security has a specific listing for those with arteritis. Listing 14.03, for systematic vasculitis, mentions arteritis as one of the impairments covered by this listing. The requirements of the listing are fairly generic and apply to other systemic diseases as well. In order to meet this listing, you must suffer from at least two of the following symptoms:

  • severe fatigue that significantly limits your physical or mental functioning
  • fever
  • malaise (feeling ill) that significantly limits physical or mental functioning, and/or
  • involuntary weight loss.

In addition, your arteritis must meet at least one of the two following requirements.

  • The arteritis must affect at least two organs or body systems, with at least one organ or body system affected moderately or severely.
  • You must have repeated ailments from arteritis with significant limitations in at least one of the following:
    • activities of daily living, which includes being able to take care of yourself and your home
    • maintaining social functioning, which includes making and keeping friends and other relationships, or
    • completing tasks in a timely manner due to problems with concentration, follow through, and speed.
It's not easy to tell if you might meet this listing; you may want to discuss your condition with a disability lawyer to see if your symptoms and limitations would meet the requirements of this listing.

Note regarding complications. If your arteritis is not properly treated and complications occur, you may qualify under other listings, such as those for:

Proving Your Inability to Work

Those with arteritis may have decreased physical, mental, and sensory abilities. If your limitations, combined, make it impossible for you to do any type of job, you may qualify for disability benefits.

Physical impairments, which can include pain and unintentional weight loss, can affect your ability to complete physical work if they are severe enough. Extreme pain can prevent you from being able to perform certain tasks such as lifting or carrying objects. It can even affect your ability to even do stationary work if it is severe enough. Additionally, weight loss can lead to fatigue and physical weakness.

The constant and severe headaches that affect some patients with arteritis can impair the mental abilities needed at work, including the ability to complete tasks in a timely manner and to get along with others in the workplace.

Sensory abilities include your ability to adapt to particular workplaces. If you have vision problems, you may be limited in the types of spaces in which you can work and the tasks you can complete. Additionally, dizziness may limit your physical abilities due to safety concerns; for instance, you may not be able to work from heights or operate hazardous machinery.

Social Security will assess whether there are jobs that someone with your limitations should be able to do. To learn more, read our section on how Social Security decides disability claims.

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