Cushing syndrome is a hormonal disorder that occurs when high levels of cortisol are present in your body for a long period of time. This can happen when your body overproduces cortisol due to conditions like adrenal cancer or when you take something like corticosteroid medication. (Another disease affecting the adrenal gland and cortisol levels is Addison's disease.)
If the symptoms or complications from your Cushing syndrome affect your ability to function at home and/or at work, you may be able to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Many of the symptoms associated with Cushing syndrome generally do not affect function. These symptoms can include:
However, there are other symptoms that can affect daily functioning, including:
If symptoms are not treated early on, they can lead to the following complications:
When the cause of Cushing syndrome is a pituitary tumor (Cushing disease), it can sometimes lead to other problems, such as interference with the production of other hormones controlled by the pituitary glands.
There are two main ways in which to qualify for Social Security disability benefits if your impairments interfere with your ability to function at home and work: meeting a disability listing and proving your symptoms make you unable to work.
To meet a "listing," you must prove that you have an impairment that is listed in the Social Security “Blue Book” and you have all of the impairment requirements in the listing. There is no listing for Cushing syndrome; however, if the Cushing syndrome has lead to other impairments, you may qualify for benefits based on those listings. Examples of such impairments include:
If your Cushing syndrome has not resulted in a particular impairment being severe enough to qualify under a listing, but nonetheless causes significant limitations to your functioning, you may be able to qualify for benefits by proving that you are unable to work.
Social Security looks at several different areas when assessing your ability to work, including physical and mental functioning. Physical functioning assesses your ability to do physically demanding tasks at work, such as lifting, moving, and carrying items. Other physical abilities are also assessed, including your ability to sit, stand, or walk for periods of time and your ability to use your hands to complete tasks (such as typing or filing). Social Security ultimately wants to determine what level of physical work you can do.
For those with Cushing syndrome, muscle weakness and fatigue can impact you ability to do physically exertional work. Fragile or thinning bones may further make such work unsafe to perform. However, generally fine motor skills are generally not affected by Cushing syndrome; therefore, desk work is still a possibility in most cases. This may make receiving benefits for physical impairments alone difficult.
Mental functioning assesses your ability to function effectively in the work place, including completing tasks and getting along with others in the workplace. For those with Cushing syndrome, decreases in cognitive ability may make it difficult to understand, remember, and complete tasks in a timely manner. Mental impairments such as depression and anxiety may further affect individual’s ability to complete tasks due to decreased motivation or increased anxiety regarding completing tasks. These same mental impairments, as well as irritability, may make interactions with coworkers more difficult and could disrupt work if severe enough.
To learn more, read our series of articles on how Social Security assesses your level of functioning and your ability to work.