Can I Get Disability Benefits If I Have a Heart Murmur?

If you have a non-innocent heart murmur due to a serious heart condition, you might qualify for Social Security disability.

Updated by , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco
Updated 3/05/2024

A heart murmur is an abnormal sound heard during a heartbeat and is the result of unusual blood flow patterns in the heart. Heart murmurs are most often the result of leaking or narrow valves. Heart valve disease can stem from many causes, such as:

So, can you get disability benefits for a heart murmur? Sometimes. It depends on the type of heart murmur and how the underlying condition affects your ability to function in a work setting.

What Is a Heart Murmur?

A normal heart makes a beating sound, like "buh-bump." The initial sound of the heartbeat, the "buh," is the systolic sound, and the second sound, the "bump," is the diastolic sound. Each part of the beat reflects a different set of heart valves closing. A heart murmur is an extra sound made by the blood flowing from one side of your heart to the other—generally a wooshing or swishing sound.

Sometimes, a murmur is the sound of blood flowing through a heart valve that isn't working properly. Murmurs can also be caused by conditions that make your heart beat faster or rapidly force more blood than usual through your heart. Many heart murmurs are called "innocent" murmurs—meaning they're not caused by a heart defect or disease.

What Are the Symptoms of a Heart Murmur?

Many heart murmurs have no symptoms. You might not know you have one unless your doctor hears the murmur during an exam. But other heart murmurs occur alongside symptoms like:

  • chest pain
  • rapid heartbeat (palpitations)
  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue, or
  • bluish skin or fingertips.

Is a Heart Murmur a Disability?

A systolic heart murmur (an extra sound with the first part of the heartbeat) usually isn't harmful. Still, it should be investigated to ensure you don't have a more serious heart condition. A diastolic heart murmur (an extra sound with the second part of the heartbeat), by contrast, is always indicative of a significant heart problem, such as:

The Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn't consider a heart murmur a disability in and of itself. But if your heart murmur is the result of a serious cardiac impairment, you might meet Social Security's definition of disabled.

Getting Disability Benefits for a Non-Innocent Heart Murmur

There are two ways you can qualify to get Social Security disability benefits for a non-innocent heart murmur:

  • meet the requirements of one of the cardiovascular listings in Social Security's Blue Book, or
  • prove that your medical condition prevents you from working at any type of job.

Either way, you'll need to prove that you have a medically determinable condition using objective medical evidence from an acceptable medical source. (20 C.F.R § 404.1521.) And your condition must have lasted or be expected to last at least 12 months.

Can You Meet a Listing With a Heart Murmur?

Section 4.0 of the Blue Book contains the adult listings for cardiovascular impairments. Social Security defines a cardiac impairment as any disorder that affects the proper functioning of the heart and circulatory system—whether congenital or acquired. In evaluating cardiovascular impairments, the SSA considers four specific consequences of heart disease:

  • chronic heart failure or ventricular dysfunction (weak pumping)
  • pain or discomfort caused by myocardial ischemia (reduced blood flow to the heart muscle)
  • syncope (loss of consciousness), or near syncope, due to inadequate blood flow to the brain from any cardiac cause, such as arrhythmia (disturbance in rhythm), and
  • bluish skin (central cyanosis) caused by issues like ventricular dysfunction.

Many cardiac conditions can cause heart murmurs. Some of these cardiac impairments are included in the listings, such as:

To meet the requirements of one of the cardiovascular listings, you'll need to provide sufficient medical evidence going back to when your symptoms began (at least three months). Social Security will need to see detailed reports from your doctor and cardiologist regarding your medical history and diagnosis. You'll also need evidence that backs up your doctor's diagnosis and the severity of your condition, such as:

  • diagnostic tests like:
    • electrocardiographs (ECG)
    • exercise tolerance test (ETT)
    • drug-induced stress tests
    • coronary arteriography, and
    • left ventriculography
  • diagnostic imaging tests, like:
    • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
    • CT angiography
    • echocardiogram (cardiac ultrasound), and
    • chest x-ray
  • radionuclide study (MUGA scan), and
  • laboratory studies (like cardiac enzyme tests and arterial blood gas tests).

Your medical records should also include information about any prescribed treatment you've tried, including its effectiveness and any side effects.

(Children with heart murmurs due to congenital heart defects can sometimes qualify for disability benefits. Learn more in our article on getting SSI for a child with a heart defect.)

Can You Work Any Job With a Heart Murmur?

What if you can't meet the requirements of a listing? You might still qualify for disability benefits if the medical condition behind your heart murmur prevents you from working.

Social Security will assess how your condition affects your ability to function day-to-day in a work environment. This residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment is based on your medical records and your daily activities.

Your RFC rating is the most you can be expected to do, given your medical condition. RFC is expressed in terms of the kind of work you can do, such as sedentary work or light work. Your RFC will be based on the following:

  • your exertional limitations, like:
    • how much weight you can lift and carry regularly, and
    • how long you can work on your feet in an 8-hour day
  • non-exertional limitations, like:
    • inability to bend and stoop
    • difficulty grasping and manipulating objects, and
  • environmental limitations (like exposure to extreme temperatures or dangerous situations).

For example, if your heart murmur is due to heart valve disease that causes dizziness and fatigue, your RFC might say you need to take extra rest breaks at work. And you're likely to have restrictions on working in potentially dangerous situations, like climbing ladders or driving.

If you suffer from shortness of breath, especially after exertion, your RFC might include exertional restrictions—limits on how much you can lift or how long you can stand.

If your RFC indicates that you can't do your past work, Social Security will determine if there's any other type of work you can be expected to do, given your:

  • RFC
  • age
  • job skills, and
  • education.

If the SSA decides your condition prevents you from doing any type of work, you'll meet Social Security's definition of disabled. Learn more about how Social Security determines and uses your RFC.

What's the VA Disability Rating for a Heart Murmur?

If you're a veteran of the United States Armed Forces with a heart murmur, you might qualify for disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). To receive a VA disability rating for a heart murmur, it would need to be due to a service-related medical condition.

The VA evaluates diseases of the heart, arteries, and veins using the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities (diagnostic codes 7000 through 7124). What's required to get VA disability for a heart murmur depends on the diagnostic method used. The VA rates heart conditions at 100%, 60%, 30%, and 10%, depending on one or more of the following:

  • your METS level (stress test results)
  • the number and frequency of heart failure episodes you've had, or
  • your ejection fraction (EF).

For example, the VA gives an EF of less than 30% a disability rating of 100%, whereas an EF between 30% and 50% warrants a 60% rating.

Learn more about filing for VA disability compensation.

Applying for Social Security Disability With a Heart Murmur

Social Security offers two types of disability benefits you might qualify to receive with a heart murmur:

  • SSDI (Social Security disability insurance), and
  • SSI (Supplemental Security Income).

To be eligible for SSDI, you must have worked and paid Social Security taxes recently enough and for long enough. SSI is a needs-based program, so there's no work requirement, but you must meet the financial criteria (low income and few assets).

You can file an SSDI claim or get an SSI application started in any of the following ways:

Once you file your claim, get ready to wait. Filing a Social Security disability claim is usually a lengthy and often frustrating process.

If Social Security initially denies your application for benefits, you can and probably should file an appeal. Most successful disability applicants win on appeal (after a hearing). And your odds are better if you hire a disability lawyer to handle your appeal.

Learn more about the Social Security disability appeals process.

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