Can I Get Disability Benefits for Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)?

If you have very low blood pressure and significant difficulty walking, your PAD may be disabling.

By , J.D. · Albany Law School
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney · Seattle University School of Law

Peripheral arterial disease—also known as peripheral vascular disease—is a circulatory system (heart and blood vessels) disorder that occurs when a fatty substance called plaque builds up in your arteries, restricting blood flow from your heart to your limbs.

Symptoms of peripheral arterial disease (PAD) can affect your ability to use your legs without pain or fatigue. If limitations from your PAD keep you from working full-time for at least twelve months, you might qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

Is Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) a Disability?

Not everybody with peripheral arterial disease will experience disabling symptoms. PAD can often be managed with exercise, diet, and medication. But for people with more severe cases, symptoms can significantly interfere with their activities of daily living and ability to work. Examples include:

  • pain while walking, most common in the calf muscles (back part of the lower leg)
  • numbness, weakness, or cramping in the legs, feet or hips
  • dermatological changes, such as shiny or discolored skin, and
  • sores on the toes, feet, or legs that won't heal.

When PAD gets worse, it can cause pain even during rest or while lying down. If left untreated, people with PAD are at increased risk of complications such as heart disease, stroke, or gangrene leading to amputation.

Qualifying for Disability Benefits for PAD

In order to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, you must provide medical evidence that proves you either satisfy Social Security's criteria for PAD to automatically qualify as a disability or you're unable to work any job due to limitations resulting from PAD.

Meeting the Disability Listing for PAD

Peripheral arterial disease is described in Social Security's "Blue Book" of conditions that can automatically qualify for you disability benefits without having to show that you can't work. To get disability benefits this way (called "meeting a listed impairment"), your medical records need to contain specific test results.

Listing 4.12 sets out the requirements for peripheral arterial disease. In order to meet this listing, you'll need evidence that you've had imaging conducted—such as an ultrasound, CT scan, X-ray, or MRI— to determine that you have PAD causing intermittent claudication (pain and cramping in your legs after activity).

In addition to diagnostic imaging, you also need to show that your blood pressure is low. Because PAD blocks blood flow through your veins, if your blood pressure is below a certain limit, it signals to Social Security that your peripheral artery disease is severe enough to be automatically disabling.

The following blood pressure test results will meet listing 4.12:

  • resting ankle/brachial systolic blood pressure ratio that is less than .50
  • decrease in systolic pressure at the ankles (after exercise) of 50% or more than it was before exercise, taking at least ten minutes to return to the before-exercise level.
  • resting toe systolic pressure of less than 30 mmHg, or
  • resting toe/brachial systolic blood pressure ratio of less than .40.

Because these requirements are very technical in nature, you might find it helpful to consult the glossary below to better understand how your PAD might meet the listing.

Specialized methods that help Social Security determine your blood pressure include:

  • angiography (an X-ray conducted with a dye that helps doctors see small blood vessels)
  • photoplethysmography (a device that uses light to detect blood volume changes), and
  • Doppler studies (an ultrasound used to estimate blood flow through your veins).

If you've had a peripheral artery bypass graft—a surgery that reroutes blood flow to bypass the narrowed section of an artery—Social Security will use your post-surgery test results to determine if your surgery was effective in reducing your PAD symptoms. But if you didn't improve after surgery, test results from before your surgery are helpful in determining how long you've been disabled (which can have an impact on the amount of back pay you're owed).

Inability to Work Due to PAD Limitations

Not very many people will have the blood pressure test results required to get disability benefits under listing 4.12. But you might still qualify for Social Security disability benefits if you can prove that your limitations make you unable to perform any job.

Social Security uses a residual functional capacity (RFC) form to determine how your ability to work is affected by your physical limitations. First, the agency will compare the demands of your previous jobs with the restrictions in your current RFC to determine whether you could do your past work today.

Next, depending on vocational factors—like being over the age of 50 and lacking transferable skills—you might be found disabled under Social Security's medical-vocational grid rules. If you're younger than 50, you'll likely need to show that you can't do even the easiest, least stressful jobs.

For example, pain from PAD can make it difficult for you to walk farther than several blocks or climb stairs, so your RFC might restrict you from jobs requiring constant walking or climbing. Even sit-down jobs might not be possible if you need to elevate your legs or take extra breaks to deal with sores or cramps. If you're under the age of 50 with an RFC for less than sedentary work, the agency will find that you're disabled.

For more information, see our article on how Social Security decides if you can do past or other work.

Getting a VA Disability Rating for Peripheral Artery Disease

Disabled veterans may qualify for benefits from both the Social Security Administration and Veterans Affairs (VA) if they can show that their PAD is a result of, or was worsened by, their time on active duty. (In VA lingo, this is called establishing service connection).

Unlike the Social Security rules—where you're either disabled or not disabled, no middle ground—the VA has a rating system that assigns you a percentage value representing how much your service-connected disability decreases your health and functioning. You can learn more about the VA rating system in our article on how disability ratings work for veterans benefits.

Legal Representation Can Help You Get Disability Benefits for PAD

Peripheral arterial disease can be a challenge to live with and expensive to treat. A recent study published by the National Institute of Health found that the estimated average annual health care costs associated with PAD is $11,553 per person (compared to $4,219 for people without PAD). Not being able to work while medical bills pile up often adds an extra layer of stress.

Consider hiring an experienced attorney or advocate to help you navigate the Social Security or Veterans Affairs disability benefits systems. Your lawyer can help gather the medical evidence needed to show that you meet a listing or establish service connection. Disability attorneys are hired on a contingency basis, meaning they only get paid if you're awarded benefits—which can help you get through lean times.

Updated February 6, 2023

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