Does Having Guillain Barre Syndrome Qualify You for Disability?

If you have difficulty walking or using your hands due to muscle weakness or paralysis from GBS, and your impairments last long enough, you should get Social Security disability.

By , Contributing Author
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Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS) is an auto-immune disorder where the body attacks its own nervous system. The result of this attack on the peripheral nerves is nerve inflammation that can lead to muscle weakness.

There is no single cause for GBS, but some of the common causes of GBS include:

Disabling Symptoms of Guillain Barre Syndrome

The most common symptom of GBS is muscle weakness and paralysis that generally starts in the legs and moves to the arms. People usually first notice tingling or pain in the feet or hands or clumsiness. As the muscles in the chest and diaphragm are affected, difficulties with breathing may arise.

Other symptoms that may occur with GBS include loss of reflexes in your arms and/or legs, low blood pressure, numbness in your limbs, muscle pain, blurred vision, falling, difficulty moving your facial muscles, muscle contractions, and a rapid heart beat. Complications from GBS may also include permanent paralysis, aspiration (when food or drinks goes into your lungs when eating or drinking), or tightening of the joint muscles that can limit movement.

Qualifying for Social Security Disability Benefits

Those who have symptoms that go away within three weeks have the best chance for a full recovery and should be able to go back to work without a problem. But for some, the recovery time for GBS can take weeks, months, or even years.

In order to receive Social Security disability benefits (SSDI or SSI), you can show that you meet the requirements of a disability listing in the Social Security "blue book," which list medical impairments that automatically qualify for disability. If you can't show that you meet a listing, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits if you can show that you are unable to do any type of work.

Meeting a Listing

There is no specific listing in the Social Security "blue book" that Guillain Barre Syndromemeets. However, you may qualify under a listing if the cause of your GBS is the subject of a listing. For instance, the following causes of GBS are found in blue book listings:

While most individuals recovery fully from GBS, you can suffer permanent impairments from this syndrome, which may be listed in the blue book. The most notable impairments caused by GBS that meet a listing in the blue book are:

  • Major dysfunction of a joint, caused by a tightening of the joint muscles and leading to difficulties walking or using your arms or hands. (See our article on disability for joint problems.)
  • Chronic respiratory insufficiency, caused by breathing problems that lead to decreased intake of oxygen. (See our article on disability for pulmonary insufficiency/COPD.)

If you meet the requirements of either of these listings, you can qualify for disability. Please note that an impairment must have lasted 12 months or be expected to last at least 12 months to qualify you for disability benefits through Social Security.

Ability to Work

If you don't have any impairments that are found in the blue book, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits if you can show how the GBS symptoms or complications prevent you from doing any type of work. Social Security will look at your impairments and develop your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). Your RFC and age, work experience, and education will all be considered in determining whether or not you can perform any type of job.

For those who have a severe case of Guillain Barre Syndrome, the physical impairments will be most noticeable and disabling. Muscle weakness and paralysis, numbness, clumsiness, loss of reflexes, and tightening of the joint muscles can all affect your ability to lift, move, or push objects at work. If you have any impairment in the arms, the physical skills needed to perform office work may also be impaired. If you have any impairments in the legs, standing or walking may be impaired. These limitations affect whether you can do medium, light, or even sedentary work. And breathing problems caused by GBS can affect all levels of work if the breathing impairment is severe enough.

While mental impairments are not associated with GBS, pain may hinder your ability to concentrate and complete tasks at hand. Sensory impairments can also occur, including blurred vision.

When considering if you are able to do any type of workSocial Security will look at all of your impairments together, how long your doctor expects them to last, and the difficulties you are having at home. For more information, see our section on how Social Security decides if you can work.

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