Pernicious Anemia: Can I Get Disability Benefits?

Social Security disability benefits may be available if your pernicious anemia causes confusion, loss of balance, or lack of sensation in the hands.

If you suffer from pernicious anemia and it affects your ability to function at work, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits.

About Pernicious Anemia

Pernicious anemia is a condition in which there is a decrease in the red blood cells in your blood, caused by your intestines' inability to properly absorb vitamin B12. Your body needs vitamin B12 to produce red blood cells; therefore when your intestines lack the necessary protein needed to absorb the B12, you develop pernicious anemia.

Causes of pernicious anemia can include a weakened stomach lining or an autoimmune system disorder that attacks the cells that make that protein. Additionally, individuals with the following diseases are at a higher risk for pernicious anemia:

Symptoms of Pernicious Anemia

Symptoms of pernicious anemia vary greatly from one individual to the next but are generally mild in nature and include:

  • diarrhea or constipation
  • fatigue
  • light-headedness upon standing
  • loss of appetite
  • difficulty concentrating, and
  • shortness of breath.

Long-Term Effects of Pernicious Anemia

Long-term vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to damage to the nervous system. Symptoms can be permanent if treatment is not started within six months of initial symptoms; permanent symptoms may include:

  • confusion
  • depression
  • loss of balance, and
  • tingling and numbness in the hands and feet.

Additionally, those with pernicious anemia are more likely to have gastric cancer.

Qualifying for Social Security Disability

To qualify for Social Security Disability (either  Social Security Disability Insurance  (SSDI) or  Supplemental Security Income  (SSI)), you must prove that you either meet the requirements of one of Social Security's official disability listings or are unable to work due to your impairments. Also, your impairment must last or be expected to last at least twelve months.

Meeting a Disability Listing

Social Security has a specific listing for pernicious anemia in the  Blue Book, Listing 11.16. To meet this listing, you must prove you have:

  • a diagnosis of pernicious anemia
  • impairment in at least two of your extremities, and
  • no significant improvement despite treatment.

Impairment to your extremities, which includes your arms and legs, must be severe to the point that you have difficulty walking or using your arms and hands. Impairments may include paralysis, tremors or other involuntary movements, and sensory issues in the extremities. Your impairments must interfere with your ability to function on an ongoing basis.

You should submit all necessary  evidence, including health records, to prove that you meet the listing in order to increase the likelihood of receiving benefits quickly.

If your pernicious anemia is not as severe as the listing requires, but you have a condition secondary to another ailment, such as Addison’s disease or diabetes, the underlying ailment may qualify under a listing in the Blue Book.

Proving You Are Unable to Work

If your pernicious anemia has advanced to the point that it interrupts your ability to work, you may be able to qualify for disability benefits even though you don't meet the disability listing. In assessing your ability to work, Social Security will look at your physical, mental, and sensory limitations in a  Residual Functional Capacity  (RFC) evaluation. Social Security may also consider your age, education level, and work experience in their determination of benefits.

For those with pernicious anemia, mild symptoms are not enough to prevent an individual from working at any job. However, if you have suffered permanent damage, it may hinder your ability to work. Here are some ways that damage from pernicious anemia can affect your ability to work.

  • Loss of balance would affect your ability to perform physical tasks as work, such as lifting or carrying items.
  • Tingling in your hands could affect your ability to do physical tasks that involve fine motor skills.
  • Depression and confusion could affect your ability to start and complete tasks at work and properly interact with others at work.
  • Tingling and numbness in your hands and feet could limit your ability to perform certain jobs due to safety concerns with lack of feeling in those areas.
To learn how Social Security assesses your limitations and RFC evaluation and decides whether you can work, see our section on  how Social Security decides if you can work.

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