Addison's disease, a disease in which the adrenal glands do not produce enough of the hormones cortisol and aldosterone, can be disabling when it isn't treated properly. The hormone levels that are affected by Addison's disease have several important purposes, including helping to maintain proper sugar levels, decreasing the immune response, helping the body to respond to stress, regulating sodium and potassium levels, and controlling sexual development and sex drive. (Another disease affecting the adrenal gland and cortisol levels is Cushing syndrome.)
Symptoms of Addison's disease can include changes in blood pressure or heart rate, chronic diarrhea, extreme weakness, fatigue, unintentional weight loss, change in mood and personality, anxiety, joint and muscle pain, difficulty standing, and slow, sluggish movements. Complications can also arise from Addison's disease, such as diabetes, osteoporosis, and hypertension.
Many individuals' Addison's disease can be successfully treated with long-term hormone replacements, and those individuals are unlikely to qualify for Social Security disability benefits. There are two ways an individual can qualify for Social Security disability benefits: An individual can meet the requirements of a disability listing in the Social Security blue book or an individual can prove that he or she is unable to work because of these limitations of Addison's disease.
Addison's disease is considered under the disability listing for endocrine disorders because it is a type of adrenal gland disorder. The listing for endocrine disorders is a bit different than other disability listings that include specific impairment requirements to qualify for disability. Instead, the endocrine disorder listing refers to disability listings for other major body systems that are affected by the disorders.
Depending on the symptoms that are caused by your Addison's, you may be able to meet the qualifications of one or more of these listings:
Additionally, sometimes Addison's disease is caused by long-term infections, such as tuberculosis or HIV. If a long-term infection is the cause of your Addison's disease, the long-term infection may be listed in the Social Security book and you may qualify for disability under that listing.
If you are not found to be disabled under one of the above listings, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits if you are found to be unable to return to work. Social Security will assess your physical and mental limitations using a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form to determine if you should be able to work despite the symptoms of your Addison's disease.
Physical abilities that the SSA evaluates in creating your RFC include sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling. For those who are suffering from Addison's disease, they often have multiple physical impairments that prevent them from doing any type of work, including heart ailments, extreme weakness, joint and muscle pain, difficulty walking, and fatigue. All of your difficulties should be included in your RFC.
Mental abilities that the SSA evaluates in creating your RFC include your ability to focus and whether you are able to respond appropriately to supervision, your co-workers, and work pressures in a work setting. For those with Addison's disease, anxiety and mood and personality changes may make performing any job difficult.
After creating your RFC, Social Security uses a formula to evaluate your capacity to work that incorporates your RFC, age, education, and work experience. Social Security will consider all of your impairments together when deciding if an individual is able to perform any work. For more information, see our section on how SSA evaluates RFCs for disability.