Polymyositis is chronic inflammation of the muscles in your body, a form of chronic inflammatory myopathy. It weakens the skeletal muscles, which control movement in your body. Polymyositis is a progressive disease that will get worse over time, causing more and more limitations on your ability to function.
The most common symptom of polymyositis is weakness or loss of muscle, which most often occurs in the shoulders and hips. Individuals who have hip weakness may have trouble going up stairs or standing up from a chair. Individuals with shoulder weakness may become unable to raise their arms over their head.
Muscle weakness can also occur in the mouth, throat, and lungs, which can lead to difficulty speaking and and shortness of breath. Other symptoms include pain, joint and muscle tenderness, fatigue, and thickening of the skin in the fingers and the hands, which can make tasks done with your hands difficult to complete. Calcium deposits can also occur in the joints, which can make movement more difficult.
As polymyositis progresses, the symptoms may become more severe. Difficulty swallowing can lead to weight loss, malnutrition, and aspiration pneumonia, which occurs when liquids or food get into the lungs. Increased shortness of breath and even respiratory failure can occur due to breathing problems.
Social Security does award disability benefits for polymyositis when the condition becomes severe enough to either meet the requirements of Social Security's disability listing on polymyositis or cause so many limitations that you are no longer able to work.
Polymyositis is listed in Social Security's Listing of Impairments under the section for immune system disorders. In order to meet the requirements of this listing, you must show that you have one of the following:
Your medical records should contain medical evidence that shows polymyositis, including laboratory tests, electromyography (which records electrical activity in muscles), and muscles biopsies. Other ways that polymyositis can be assessed is by medical evidence of weakness in the shoulder or hip muscles.
As polymyositis can have effects on many other areas of the body, including those needed for breathing and speech, you may meet the requirements of other listings as well. If you do not meet the listing for polymyositis specifically, look to other disability listings that may describe your symptoms.
If you do not meet the requirements of a disability listing, you may be found disabled regardless, if you are unable to return to work. In assessing whether you can return to work, Social Security looks at your medical record to see how your medical condition limits you physically and mentally. It records your abilities and limitations on a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form.
For those with polymyositis, physical limitations are the most prevalent. Muscle weakness and loss, calcium deposits, pain, fatigue, and shortness of breath can all affect an individual’s ability to stand and walk or to carry or lift objects in the workplace. In fact, some individuals need to use a wheelchair because of this (read about how using a wheelchair affects your chances of getting disability). In addition, thickening of the skin on the fingers and hands can make fine motor skills difficult or impossible, such as filing, typing, or placing together small pieces. Difficulty with speech can also make interacting with others in the workplace more difficult.
If you have some or all of these limitations, your doctor should have noted them in his or her notes. After Social Security assesses your RFC, the agency will consider all of your limitations together with your job experience, education, and age when deciding if you are able to return to work. For more information, see our article on how Social Security decides when you can no longer work.