Getting Social Security Disability Benefits for Fibromuscular Dysplasia

If you have complications from fibromuscular dysplasia, you may be eligible for disability benefits.

By , J.D., The Colleges of Law
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney (Seattle University School of Law)

Fibromuscular dysplasia (dis-PLAY-zhee-uh) is the medical term for a narrowing of the arteries—the tubes that transport blood throughout your body—unrelated to arteriosclerosis. With fibromuscular dysplasia, fibrous tissue grows abnormally in the arterial walls, causing narrowing ("stenosis") of the arteries.

As the stenosis worsens, blood has a harder time flowing through the arteries, which can cause complications in nearby organs due to the reduced blood flow. If symptoms and complications from fibromuscular dysplasia keep you working full-time for at least one year, you may qualify for disability benefits.

What's the Meaning of a Fibromuscular Dysplasia (FMD) Diagnosis?

Fibromuscular dysplasia is more common in women and is often diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 50. In women, FMD typically occurs in the renal (kidney-related) arteries and the extracranial carotid arteries (the blood vessels leading to the brain). Men can also develop FMD, although it's less frequent than in women. For men, FMD tends to occur in the renal arteries, the mesenteric (abdominal) arteries, and the peripheral (leading to the arms and legs) arteries.

Getting a diagnosis of fibromuscular dysplasia doesn't have to be scary. While doctors don't currently have a cure for FMD, the disorder is typically managed with dietary changes, medications, or—in more severe cases—surgical intervention. With proper treatment, many people with fibromuscular dysplasia have a normal life expectancy.

Can You Get Disability Benefits for Fibromuscular Dysplasia?

Many people are able to successfully work and complete their daily routines without serious limitations from fibromuscular dysplasia. For these people, it's unlikely that they'll qualify for disability benefits based only on FMD symptoms, without additional impairments.

But for people with complications from FMD—such as aneurysms, dissections, or FMD in multiple arterial beds—the condition can cause a significant loss of function and a great deal of pain. When functional limitations from FMD significantly interfere with your ability to work full time, Social Security can find that you're disabled.

Limitations Caused by Fibromuscular Dysplasia

Fatigue is one of the most frequent symptoms of fibromuscular dysplasia, which can make work difficult, if not impossible. Depending on which arteries are affected by FMD, specific complications can arise—and along with them additional work-related limitations. For example:

  • FMD in the carotid arteries can cause migraine headaches at an intensity and frequency that makes you miss too much work.
  • FMD of the renal arteries can result in high blood pressure and kidney damage that requires you to avoid strenuous activities.
  • Tears in the artery wall ("dissection") can put you at the risk of aneurysm and stroke, ruling out hazardous jobs.

Unless you have peripheral artery FMD, fibromuscular dysplasia isn't one of the diseases that Social Security includes in its Listing of Impairments (also known as the Blue Book), so you can't get disability benefits simply by meeting a list of medical criteria. Instead, you'll have to show Social Security how your symptoms limit the activities you can do in the workplace.

If your doctor has restricted your activities in any way—such as saying you shouldn't lift any more than ten pounds—make sure that the restriction is included in your medical records. Social Security will consider your doctor's opinion when determining what work-related limitations you have.

Getting Disability for FMD Due to Reduced Functioning

Social Security reviews your medical records, doctors' opinions, and daily activities questionnaire for evidence of any limitations you have, physical or mental, that could affect the types of jobs you could do. The total amount of your work-related limitations is called your residual functional capacity (RFC).

What's In Your RFC?

Your RFC will likely contain restrictions on exertional (strength-related) and non-exertional (mental or otherwise not strength-related) activities. For example, if you're restricted from lifting more than 20 pounds, you would be limited to doing work at the light exertional level. People who have peripheral artery FMD that causes leg pain may be exertionally limited to sedentary work in addition to non-exertional restrictions against climbing ladders or stairs.

Carotid artery FMD can result in symptoms like severe headaches, dizziness, or tinnitus, which could translate into restrictions against working at heights or operating hazardous machinery. Abdominal artery FMD may cause pain after eating that requires a longer break for lunch. And mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression, can also accompany a FMD diagnosis, resulting in difficulty concentrating at work. Such non-exertional limitations can have a big impact on whether you're found disabled, so report all of your symptoms to your doctor and make sure they're recorded in your medical records.

How Does Social Security Use Your RFC?

Social Security compares your current RFC with the demands of your past relevant work to see if you could do those jobs today. If not, the agency will consider additional factors—such as your age, education, and skills—to determine whether you can do other work.

The more limitations you have in your RFC, the less likely it is that any jobs exist that you'll be able to perform. Examples of limitations that typically rule out all full-time work include:

  • regularly being off-task or unproductive for more than 15%-20% of the work day
  • being absent more than two days per month due to chronic migraines or other symptoms, or
  • missing more than three cumulative weeks of work per year.

For more information, see our articles on qualifying for disability because of reduced productivity or showing that you can't do even sedentary work. And if you're 50 years of age or older, learn about how the medical-vocational grid rules can make it easier for you to get disability.

Applying for SSDI/SSI for Fibromuscular Dysplasia

As you file your application for disability, keep in mind that each disability program (SSDI and SSI) has non-medical eligibility criteria that you'll need to satisfy before you can receive benefits. Both programs require that you have a twelve-month period earning less than the substantial gainful activity amount.

You can file your application for Social Security Benefits in several ways:

  • Apply online at Social Security's website.
  • Call 888-772-1213, between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, to speak with a representative. (People who are deaf or hard of hearing can call the TTY number at 800-325-0778.)
  • Go in person to your local Social Security field office.

If you'd like help with your application, consider hiring an experienced disability attorney to guide you through the process. Your lawyer can gather medical records, handle correspondence with Social Security, and represent you at a disability hearing if necessary.

Updated February 28, 2024

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