Raynaud's disease is a condition where the arteries that supply blood to the skin become narrowed, limiting blood circulation to certain body parts—most commonly the fingers, toes, nose, and ears. The disease causes episodic spasms (called vasospastic attacks) in response to stress or cold temperatures that can last anywhere from seconds to hours.
During a Raynaud's attack, the affected body parts usually feel numb and cold, and the skin color can appear white or blue. As circulation returns, they may turn red and throb, tingle, or swell. Over time, Raynaud's can cause these arteries to swell, further limiting blood flow and causing the skin to have a pale appearance.
Raynaud's disease—sometimes called white finger or dead finger—is usually diagnosed based on a patient's self-reporting of their symptoms. Most doctors will perform tests to rule out other conditions.
Mild cases of Raynaud's normally respond to self-treatment—such as keeping your extremities warm—to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks. More advanced cases sometimes require prescribed medications to help open blood vessels. In the most severe Raynaud's disease cases, doctors may recommend nerve blocks or surgery.
Complications of Raynaud's include ulcers such as chilblains (also called pernio), small, itchy swellings on the skin as a reaction to cold temperatures. Body parts can also become infected or develop gangrene due to a lack of blood flow. In rare cases, the blood flow becomes permanently blocked, causing deformities and usually requiring amputation.
For many people, Raynaud's disease is a painful but intermittent inconvenience. However, for those with severe cases, the disorder can be chronic and limiting. If symptoms from Raynaud's prevent you from working full-time for at least twelve months, you might be eligible for Social Security disability benefits.
Before the Social Security Administration (SSA) can determine that you're disabled, you'll need to show that you meet the non-medical criteria for at least one of the agency's disability programs, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
SSDI is based on your work history and how much money you paid into the Social Security program by way of payroll taxes. SSI is a needs-based program with strict income and asset limits. Some people might qualify for both SSDI and SSI, known as concurrent benefits.
When you apply for disability due to Raynaud's disease, your application will be sent to your state's Disability Determination Services (DDS) office. Once a claims examiner determines that you financially qualify for SSDI, SSI, or both, the examiner will then review your application and decide whether you're disabled.
Social Security maintains a "Blue Book" of medical conditions that the agency considers especially severe. If your disability application contains evidence of certain medical findings that satisfy the requirements of a listed impairment, you can qualify for disability automatically.
Primary Raynaud's doesn't have its own Blue Book listing, but secondary Raynaud's can be evaluated using the listing for the underlying medical condition causing the phenomenon. For example, you can meet listing 14.04 for systemic sclerosis (scleroderma) if you have a scleroderma diagnosis and Raynaud's with one of the following:
If you think you might meet or "equal" the requirements of listing 14.04, ask your doctor to write a medical opinion and submit it to Social Security. The agency values the opinions of doctors who have treated you regularly and can provide insight into your limitations.
Few disability applicants are able to meet the requirements of a listed impairment. Instead, most people who are awarded benefits have been able to prove that they have a residual functional capacity (RFC) that rules out all work.
Your RFC is a set of functional limitations on what you can and can't do in a work setting. For example, if you have ulcerations on your fingers from Raynaud's, you may not be able to lift, carry, grasp, push, or pull items. Or, your doctor might have restricted you from exposure to cold environments that could worsen your Raynaud's symptoms.
Social Security uses your RFC by comparing it with the demands of your past jobs and seeing if you could return to that type of work. If you can't, the agency will then decide whether other jobs exist that you could do, considering factors such as your age, education, and work experience. For most people younger than 50, this means determining whether you could do a simple sit-down job, but people 50 years of age and older may have an easier time qualifying under the medical-vocational grid rules.
Getting disability benefits based solely on Raynaud's disease isn't very common. But many disability applicants with Raynaud's also have related connective tissue or circulatory system disorders (such as peripheral vascular disease) that also interfere with their ability to work. Social Security is required to consider all your impairments combined when determining whether you're disabled, so make sure you let the agency know about every condition you're being treated for.
When evaluating your application, Social Security is most concerned with how your symptoms and side effects limit your ability to perform normal everyday activities. The agency will most likely send you, your family members, and your doctors some paperwork to complete. You may be asked to conduct an interview over the phone or go to a consultative examination.
For Social Security, the most useful source of information is the progress notes that document your medical treatment. In order to have the best chance of qualifying for disability due to Raynaud's, your medical file should contain a few specific things, including:
You may also want to submit third-party statements from friends, family, or former employers that can help Social Security understand more about your Raynaud's and how it has an impact on your ability to function.
Social Security has several easy ways to apply for disability benefits:
(Note that if you're applying for SSDI you can complete the application online, but if you're applying for SSI, a representative from Social Security will contact you to schedule an appointment to finish filing a paper application.)
No matter how you apply, you'll need to have certain information on hand at the time that you complete the disability application, including contact information for your medical providers and dates for all medical treatment you've obtained.
Once your application is received by your state's Disability Determination Services office, you'll receive a letter notifying you of your claims examiner's name and phone number. You should direct any questions to your claims examiner. For more information, see our article on applying for Social Security disability benefits.
Updated August 10, 2023