When Disability Benefits Are Available for Dermatomyositis or Polymyositis

Individuals with dermatomyositis that persists despite treatment may be eligible for Social Security disability.

Individuals who have inflammatory muscle diseases, including polymyositis and dermatomyositis, often have debilitating impairments. Individuals who are no longer able to work because of polymyositis or dermatomyositis may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Polymyositis is a muscle disease that causes inflammation of the muscle fibers. The result of the inflammation is weakness in the affected muscles that can be severe and develop over weeks or months. It is a chronic disease that has periods of increased symptoms, called flares, and periods of no or minimal symptoms, called remissions.

Dermatomyositis is a similar muscle disease that causes inflammation of the muscle fibers and is characterized by a distinct skin rash.

Disabling Symptoms of Polymyositis and Dermtomyositis

Symptoms of polymyositis and dermtomyositis can include:

  • muscle weakness, usually close to the trunk of the body
  • fatigue, and
  • shortness of breath.

Polymyositis and dermatomyositis generally respond well to treatment. However, others can have weakness that persists despite treatment. That weakness in the muscles can cause:

  • difficulty with swallowing, which can cause weight loss and malnutrition
  • breathing of liquids into the lungs, causing pneumonia
  • difficulty breathing
  • gastrointestinal problems, including ulcers and bleeding
  • infections, particularly in the respiratory and digestive tracts, and
  • skin complications, including calcium deposits in the muscles, skin, or connective tissue which can cause functional limitations.

Getting Disability Benefits for Polymyositis or Dermatomyositis

If your polymyositis /dermatomyositis causes limitations that prevent you from being able to work, you may qualify for disability benefits. To qualify for disability benefits, you must show that you meet or equal a listing or are unable to perform any job.

Meeting a Disability Listing

To meet a listing, you must prove that you have all of the requirements of a listing from the Social Security "blue book," which lists impairments that will qualify you to receive disability benefits. There is a specific listing for polymyositis and dermatomyositis, Listing 14.05. In order to meet this listing, you must show that you have at least one of the following symptoms caused by polymyositis or dermatomyositis:

  • Muscle weakness in the pelvis or shoulder that affects your ability to effectively walk or use your arms
  • Muscle weakness that allows solids or fluids to get into your lungs when swallowing
  • Muscle weakness in the chest and diaphragm that impairs your ability to breathe properly, or
  • Calcium build up in the muscle, tissue, or skin that limits movement in your joints or intestinal tract.
Alternatively, you can qualify if you have repeated symptoms of polymyositis with severe fatigue, fever, involuntary weight loss, or ill feeling that seriously limits your daily activities, social functioning, or ability to complete tasks. Speak to your doctor to see if you meet the requirements of this impairment listing.

Medical Evidence

In order to prove that you have polymyositis or dermatomyositis, your medical records must document that you have the condition. There are certain tests that are frequently used to demonstrate their presence. With both of these conditions, elevated serum muscle enzymes and abnormal electromyography and muscle biopsies are common. In addition, for dermatomyositis, your records should record skin findings showing the characteristics of the condition.

If you have not had these tests done, there are other ways in which to prove that you have polymyositis or dermatomyositisis -- by showing physical limitations. Limitations in the pelvic muscles can be shown by an inability to squat or sit or to climb stairs. Limitations of the shoulder muscles can be shown by an inability to lift, carry, or reach overhead or perform fine motor skills.

Multiple Illnesses

Polymyositis or dermatomyositis can often be an illness that is present with another condition, or can cause a condition that affects another part of the body. For example, individuals with polymyositis or dermatomyositis may also suffer from lupus. Individuals with polymyositis or dermatomyositis may also develop different types of cancers or lung problems. Make sure you include any other diagnoses or limitations in your application for disability benefits.

You may want to read our articles on the requirements for disability for these other conditions that are associated with polymyositis and dermatomyositis:

Being Unable to Work

If you do not meet an impairment listing, you may be able to receive disability benefits if you can prove you can't work any type of job due to limitations caused by your illness. Those with polymyositis and dermatomyositis often have significant physical impairments. For instance, 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). The inability to sit for a long period of time would affect one's ability to do a desk job. The limitations on arm movement and fine motor skills will also further limit one's ability to do any job. The degree of your limitations is very important in determining whether or not you are able to work, so it's helpful to have your doctor fill out an RFC form detailing exactly what you can and cannot do.

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