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 a corticosteroid medication like glucocorticoids. (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 or at work, you might be able to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Some of the symptoms associated with Cushing syndrome don't affect your ability to function physically. Symptoms can include:
But other Cushings symptoms can affect daily functioning, including:
And if these symptoms are not treated early on, they can lead to the following complications:
When the cause of Cushing syndrome is a pituitary tumor called a pituitary adenoma (Cushing disease), it can sometimes lead to other problems, such as interference with the production of other hormones controlled by the pituitary glands. In patients with pituitary adenomas, doctors will often remove the pituitary tumor through a surgical procedure.
If your impairments continue to interfere with your ability to function at home and work, even after your condition is diagnosed and treated, you might be able to qualify for SSDI or SSI.
There are two main ways to qualify for Social Security disability benefits: 1) meeting a medical listing, and 2) proving your symptoms make you unable to work at any type of job, no matter how easy.
To "meet a listing," you must prove that you have an impairment that's listed in the Social Security "Blue Book." The Blue Book includes listings for medical conditions that the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers especially serious and often disabling. There is no listing for Cushing syndrome, but if the Cushing syndrome has led to other impairments, you might qualify for benefits based on those listings.
Examples of related impairments include:
But because Cushing's doesn't have a listing, it's more likely that would qualify for benefits by showing that your physical or mental limitations rule out all types of work for you.
If Cushing syndrome causes significant limitations in your functioning, you might be able to qualify for benefits by proving that you're unable to do full-time work. Social Security looks at several different areas when assessing your ability to work, including physical and mental functioning.
When evaluating your application, Social Security will be most interested in how your symptoms limit your ability to perform everyday activities. The agency will most likely send you, your family members, and your doctors some forms to complete about your limitations. The SSA might also ask you to attend an interview over the phone or go to a consultative exam.
Social Security will create a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment to assess 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. Social Security ultimately wants to determine what level of physical work you can do (sedentary, light, or medium).
When you have Cushing syndrome, muscle weakness and fatigue can impact your ability to do physically exertional work. And fragile or thinning bones further make such work unsafe to perform. But fine motor skills aren't usually affected by Cushing syndrome, so desk work is still a possibility in most cases. This can make receiving benefits for physical impairments alone quite difficult.
Social Security will also assess your mental ability to function effectively in the workplace. If you have Cushing syndrome, you may have decreases in cognitive ability that make it difficult to remember and complete tasks in a timely manner. Mental impairments such as depression and anxiety may further affect your 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 your work if severe enough.
Social Security will use your RFC by comparing it with the demands of your prior work to see if you could return to that type of work. If you can't, the agency will decide whether other jobs exist that you could do, considering your age, education, and work experience.
For most people younger than 50, this means determining whether you could do a simple sit-down job; if you can, you won't be entitled to disability benefits. For people 50 years of age and older, special rules called the medical-vocational grid rules may make it easier to qualify.
To learn more, read our series of articles on how Social Security assesses your level of functioning and your ability to work.
You have four options for filing an application for Social Security disability benefits:
You can always file an application on your own using one of the above methods and only hire an attorney if your claim is denied and you need to appeal. Read about when it makes sense to hire a lawyer for the first level of appeal, the reconsideration.
Updated October 9, 2023