Is It Possible to Get Disability for Hypoglycemia?

Getting disability benefits for hypoglycemia alone is rare but not impossible.

By , Attorney
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If you suffer from hypoglycemia that's severe enough to interfere with your ability to work, you might be able to receive Social Security disability benefits. Hypoglycemia is a condition where your glucose (blood sugar) levels dip abnormally low. Chronic hypoglycemia is usually an indicator of a greater health problem and is generally associated with diabetes, although there are some rare conditions that can also lead to hypoglycemia in individuals who don't have diabetes.

Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

Individuals who begin to suffer from hypoglycemia can have any of the following symptoms:

  • confusion or irritability
  • fatigue or weakness
  • abnormal behavior, like the inability to complete routine tasks
  • headaches
  • heart palpitations or a racing pulse
  • shakiness or sweating
  • tingling or numbness of the lips, tongue, or cheek, and
  • visual disturbances, like blurred vision

These symptoms, if recognized as hypoglycemia, can be quickly stopped by eating a high sugar food or taking medications. However, some people have hypoglycemia unawareness and don't know to get treatment for these symptoms.

Hypoglycemia Unawareness

Hypoglycemia unawareness is a medical condition where the body's blood sugar remains consistently low for so long that the body stops recognizing the low blood sugar as abnormal and stops making signs or symptoms warning of low blood sugar. This condition can be dangerous, because if hypoglycemia goes untreated, more serious symptoms can occur, including:

  • decreased coordination
  • decreased concentration
  • loss of consciousness
  • seizures, or
  • coma.

If an individual doesn't receive help, hypoglycemia can lead to death.

Causes of Hypoglycemia

The most common cause of hypoglycemia is a side effect of a diabetes medication called insulin. Insulin is a hormone that the body produces to use sugar as energy. If you have type one diabetes, your body doesn't make insulin, and if you have type two diabetes, your body doesn't properly use the insulin it makes. To correct this problem, many people are prescribed insulin to lower their blood sugar. But, taking too much insulin or other diabetic medications can cause your blood sugar to drop too low. Hypoglycemia can also happen if you eat less than you usually do after taking your diabetes medication or if you exercise more than you usually do.

People who don't have diabetes can also have hypoglycemia, but it's much less common. Non-diabetic causes of hypoglycemia include:

  • medications (like Qualauin, used to treat malaria)
  • excessive alcohol use without eating
  • some critical illnesses (like severe hepatitis, cirrhosis, or anorexia nervosa), and
  • pancreatic tumor (called insulinoma).

Reactive Hypoglycemia

Reactive hypoglycemia is different than hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia occurs when you haven't eaten anything for an extended period but your blood sugar naturally drops below normal levels. Reactive hypoglycemia (also called "postprandial hypoglycemia") is a rare form of hypoglycemia where your blood sugar drops too low after eating (usually within 2-4 hours after a meal). The cause of reactive hypoglycemia isn't clear, but possible causes include:

  • prediabetes
  • rare enzyme deficiencies, and
  • recovery from stomach surgery.

Symptoms of reactive hypoglycemia are generally the same as hypoglycemia, including:

  • blurred vision
  • confusion or irritability
  • dizziness or light-headedness
  • headache
  • extreme drowsiness
  • shaking, and
  • feeling faint.

If reactive hypoglycemia is the only impairment you suffer from, getting Social Security disability benefits will be difficult, because the symptoms can usually be cured by simple changes, including:

  • eating a balanced diet (including protein as well as high-fiber foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables)
  • avoiding sugary foods and simple carbohydrates (like white bread)
  • eating food when drinking alcohol, and
  • eating several small meals and snacks throughout the day.

Can You Get Disability Benefits for Hypoglycemia?

When you experience severe limitations because of hypoglycemia, you might be able to get Social Security disability benefits—if you're prevented from working for 12 months or more. But it's not easy; if hypoglycemia is the only serious medical condition you have, you'll have a hard time getting disability benefits.

Social Security has three ways you can qualify for Social Security disability benefits:

  • Meeting a "listing." Social Security has a disability evaluation handbook that outlines the criteria for disability for various medical conditions. Social Security calls these rules "listings."
  • Equaling a listing. If Social Security doesn't have a listing for your specific medical condition, but your impairments are close to another listing, you may be able to "equal" the other listing. To equal a listing, you must have similar symptoms and limitations to the requirements in a listing.
  • Being unable to work. Even if you don't meet or equal a listing, you may still be eligible for disability benefits if you can prove that you have a severe medical impairment that makes you unable to do work activities.

Meeting or Equaling a Listing

Social Security doesn't have a specific listing for hypoglycemia. However, listing 9.0, Endocrine Disorders, states that Social Security will evaluate hypoglycemia based on two other listed impairments that hypoglycemic impairments can lead to:

  • seizures, and
  • decreased mental capacity and confusion.

If you have frequent seizures that interfere with your daytime activities, you may be able to "equal" listing 11.02 for epilepsy. See our article on how you can get disability benefits for seizure disorders.

If you're frequently confused due to low blood sugar, you may be able to "equal" listing 12.02 for neurocognitive disorders, if your decreased mental capacity or cognitive capabilities interfere with your ability to:

  • take care of yourself
  • function socially
  • focus, or
  • keep up with work.

See our article on disability benefits and neurocognitive disorders for more information.

Meeting the criteria explained in the listings can be difficult. In fact, most disability claims that are approved for benefits don't meet the criteria of one of the listings contained in Social Security's evaluation handbook. Instead, Social Security approves most claims because the applicants' symptoms and limitations make them unable to perform their previous jobs and they're unable to transition into another type of work.

Being Unable to Work Because of Hypoglycemia

To decide if you're unable to work, Social Security will first look at your medical records to see whether there's enough evidence that your medical condition limits your ability to do many work-related activities. This means you must have a medical diagnosis of a severe condition that's backed up by medical findings, like lab tests, not just your reports about fatigue, confusion, or weakness.

If Social Security agrees that you have a severe medical condition, a claims examiner will determine your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). Your RFC is the most intensive work you can do (medium, light, or sedentary), despite the limitations caused by your medical condition. An RFC for someone suffering from severe hypoglycemia might include the following limitations:

  • lift and carry no more than twenty pounds occasionally (defined as 1/3 of an eight-hour workday) and ten pounds frequently (defined as occurring from 1/3 to 2/3 of an eight-hour workday)
  • no work at unprotected heights
  • never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds
  • no exposure to dangerous moving machinery or erratically moving surfaces
  • occasionally climb ramps or stairs
  • perform simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, and
  • no production rate tasks (like jobs requiring hourly quotas).

Many of the physical and mental impairments associated with hypoglycemia, including confusion, shakiness, and anxiety, can be quickly resolved by eating high sugar food or medication. However, in jobs requiring physical labor, even short periods of confusion or shakiness can be unsafe. If your past jobs included physical labor, Social Security may agree that you can't go back to that type of work.

If Social Security agrees that your limitations prevent you from performing any of your past jobs, you must prove that you're unable to transition into some other type of less physically demanding work. This is easier to do once you're age 50 or older, because of Social Security's grid rules.

The grid rules are like a chart based on age, education, and work experience. If you're over age 50 or 55, the grid rules might say that you're disabled even if you have the physical ability to perform some work-related activities. For more information, see our articles on how the grid rules help you get disability benefits.

How Do I Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits?

An easy way to apply for Social Security disability benefits is to file your claim online at www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability. You can also file a claim over the phone by contacting Social Security at 800-772-1213, but be prepared for long wait times. For more information, see our article about applying for Social Security disability benefits.

Updated January 3, 2022

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