Graves' disease is an endocrine disorder that involves the thyroid gland. It's the most common source of "hyperthyroidism," the overproduction of thyroid hormones.
The effects of Graves' disease on your body and your ability to work will vary from person to person. This article will cover what Graves' disease is, what it generally takes to qualify for Social Security disability if you have Graves' disease, and how to apply for benefits.
Most patients with Graves' disease are able to treat and stabilize their condition without having to quit work. If you can work and earn a certain amount of income (what Social Security calls "substantial gainful activity," or SGA), then your Graves' disease won't be considered disabling. Social Security defines SGA as earning about $1,600 per month or more (or about $2,600 if you're legally blind).
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has created a list of conditions (called the Blue Book) that can be severe enough to automatically qualify an applicant for disability. Graves' disease isn't among the specific impairments listed. That makes it more difficult, but not impossible, to win disability benefits based on Graves' disease alone.
It's been suggested that Graves' disease is an autoimmune response to some type of virus, because it occurs suddenly and, often, later in life. Women are eight times more likely to suffer from Graves' Disease than men. Most people who have Graves' are between 30 and 50 years old, although you can develop Graves' disease at any age.
Your body needs thyroid hormones to regulate your metabolism and control your heart rate, digestive functions, and other critical systems. Graves' disease causes your body to make antibodies (designed to fight infection) that trick your thyroid gland into overproducing hormones.
An overactive thyroid can cause a number of symptoms. If you have Graves' disease, your could experience any of the following:
Your doctor can diagnose Graves' by testing thyroid hormone levels in your blood (thyroid stimulating hormone, or TSH). Your doctor might do a radioactive iodine uptake test. Your thyroid uses iodine to make hormones, so if it's overactive, it will absorb more iodine than normal.
If you're showing signs of bulging or enlarged eyeballs, your doctor might order an ultrasound, CT scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to evaluate the muscles and tissues around your eyes. Evidence of swelling can indicate Graves' disease.
Fortunately, Graves' disease can be treated and can even go into remission. With treatment, for some patients, the disease will eventually go away completely.
But if left untreated, the long-term effects of Graves' disease can be serious, even life-threatening. If you have Graves' Disease, your treatment(s) could include:
Thyroid removal and radioactive iodine treatment generally result in hypothyroidism—meaning your body can no longer produce thyroid hormones, and you'd then need to take thyroid supplements to maintain your metabolism.
Even though Social Security has no specific listing for Grave's disease, you might still be able to get disability benefits in certain circumstances. There are three ways to qualify medically for Social Security disability benefits:
If you have complications that are listed in the Blue Book, Social Security will assess those medical conditions under the disability listing for that condition. Listing 9.00, for Endocrine Disorders, gives some examples of how the SSA will evaluate complications caused by disorders of the thyroid gland.
If you have a complication from Graves' disease that matches a listing, you will qualify medically for disability benefits. (Learn about Social Security's non-medical requirements for disability benefits.)
If you have multiple impairments—whether your other conditions are caused by Graves' disease or not—Social Security must consider their combined effects in determining if you qualify for disability benefits. Even if none of your conditions matches a listing individually, together, they could "equal a listing."
For instance, about 25% of Graves' patients will develop an eye condition called Graves' orbitopathy (also called thyroid eye disease, or TED). The symptoms of TED can range from mild to severe and include:
If TED seriously affects your eyesight despite treatment, and you're battling depression because of your illness, you might qualify for Social Security disability benefits—even if neither your vision issues nor your depression on their own probably wouldn't be enough to equal a listing.
Social Security will consider the combined effects of all your impairments to see if the limitations they cause "equal a listing." If the SSA finds that your condition is medically equal to a listing, you'll qualify for disability. (Learn more about getting disability benefits by equalling a listing.)
Even if your condition doesn't match or equal a listing, you might still qualify for disability benefits. If your Grave's symptoms make it impossible for you to work full-time in any kind of job, you could meet Social Security's requirement for disability benefits through a medical-vocational allowance.
Social Security is required to consider the effect your impairment has on your ability to perform daily activities and to work. Social Security will use the medical evidence in your file to determine your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC is the most you can be expected to do given your medical condition.
In determining your RFC, Social Security will consider:
Once Social Security knows your RFC, the agency must then determine if you can return to your prior work. If your RFC rules out your doing your prior work activities, the SSA will then assess whether there's any kind of work you can still do, given your RFC and your:
Because Social Security must consider all the evidence in your medical record in making a disability determination, it's important to be sure all your conditions and limitations are well documented. (Learn more about the type of medical evidence you'll need to prove to Social Security that you're disabled.)
You can file an application for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) in one of three ways. You can choose to file:
When you apply for SSDI, Social Security will automatically consider your application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits as well.
If you're applying for SSI disability benefits only, you can let the SSA know you want to file an application and Social Security will schedule an appointment for you. Or you can call Social Security (at the number above) to file by phone. You can also get your application started online.
However you choose to file your application, you can expect it to take Social Security several months or more to decide whether you qualify for disability benefits.
(Learn more about the Social Security disability application process.)
Updated December 12, 2023