What Medical Conditions Qualify for Social Security Disability or SSI?

Learn more about which illnesses and diseases are likely to qualify for disability benefits, and how to improve your chances of getting benefits for your medical condition.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

The Social Security Administration's (SSA's) impairment listing manual (called the blue book) lists a number of impairments, both physical and mental. These medical conditions will automatically qualify an applicant for Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), provided the applicant's condition meets the disability requirements in the listing. Each listing lays out the symptoms, tests, and limitations that an applicant must have to get approved for disability benefits.

What Conditions Qualify for Disability?

The listing manual includes the following categories of conditions, which will automatically qualify you for disability if you meet the requirements in the listing:

To learn the disability requirements for getting disability benefits for many of the above conditions, see our section of articles on Medical Conditions, Impairments, and Problems.

How Do You Get Disability for Listed Medical Conditions?

If your disability is listed in Social Security's Listing of Impairments, the first step is to get a diagnosis of the condition from your doctor. But a diagnosis alone will get you an automatic disability approval for only a few conditions, like the following:

  • ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease)
  • organ transplants, such as a liver or kidney transplant, and
  • certain serious cancers, such as esophageal cancer, mucosal melanoma, anaplastic carcinoma of the thyroid gland, or small-cell carcinoma (of the prostate, ovaries, breast, lungs, pleura, intestines, or bladder).

For all other conditions, Social Security will look past your diagnosis to determine if you meet the requirements of the listing, such as having certain x-ray or test results, for that impairment. The listings often require that your doctor's treatment notes mention that you have physical limitations and cognitive limitations.

If you haven't had the clinical or laboratory tests required in a listing, you can ask your doctor to perform them. Or you can wait for the SSA to pay for a consultative exam, but this makes your claim take longer. It's generally better if the key test results are already in your medical records before you apply. That way, you can check to see if your test results meet the requirements of the listing before you apply for disability.

The listing requirements are often quite complex; our illness-specific articles simplify the medical criteria laid out in the listings so that you can understand whether your condition will qualify for disability.

Does a Medical Condition Have to Match the Listing?

No, an applicant filing for Social Security disability benefits doesn't necessarily have to satisfy the exact listing requirements for a particular illness or condition to be awarded disability benefits based on the condition. You can get disability benefits if Social Security considers aspects of your condition to equal the criteria in a listing. This is called "equaling a disability listing." (But according to recent government statistics, 37% of all approved disability applications "met" a listing and only 6% "equaled" a listing.)

How Do You Qualify for Disability If You Can't Meet the Listing?

If you don't meet OR equal the criteria for the medical listing, you can still qualify for disability benefits if your condition limits your functioning so much that you can't work. Social Security will consider how your condition affects your ability to do routine daily activities and work activities, and will then determine whether there is any kind of job you can safely be expected to do.

First, Social Security determines your residual functional capacity (RFC) by looking at how much you can lift and carry and how long you can walk and stand. Then the agency assigns you an RFC of heavy, medium, light, or sedentary work. If your RFC doesn't allow you to do any jobs that you're otherwise suited for, you can qualify for benefits "vocationally." In a recent year, half of all approved disability applications were approved vocationally—based on the assessment of applicants' limitations and the jobs available for someone with those limitations.

For more information on qualifying for disability vocationally, see our section on how Social Security decides if your limitations make you disabled.

What If a Condition Isn't in the Listing of Impairments?

An applicant doesn't need to have an impairment that is listed in Social Security's Blue Book to be awarded disability benefits. For instance, migraine headaches are not included in a listing, but if an applicant's migraines are severe enough and are well documented, Social Security may grant disability benefits if the migraines make it impossible for the disability applicant to work a full-time job. Other common impairments that aren't listed in Social Security's blue book include:

Here are the keys to getting benefits for a condition that doesn't have a listing. The condition must:

Which Medical Conditions Are Likely to Qualify for Disability?

While any of the above medical conditions are qualifying disabilities, some medical conditions are more likely to lead to an approval of benefits than others. We recently surveyed our readers about their experiences in applying for disability benefits and compared their answers to government statistics. The conditions most likely to get approved were multiple sclerosis and some types of cancers. Respiratory disorders (like COPD) and joint diseases (like arthritis in the hip and back) were also high on the list. For the details, see our article on survey statistics on getting Social Security disability for common medical conditions.

How Can I Get My Medical Condition to Qualify?

If you've been seeing a doctor regularly, have a conversation with your doctor about your limitations. For instance, you might tell your doctor that you have lumbar pain when standing for long periods of time, or your back hurts after carrying items. Make sure your doctor includes these issues in your medical records; your doctor might record the limitations as "not able to lift 30 pounds" or "can stand no longer than two hours." Ask whether your doctor thinks your limitations rule out full-time work for you. If your doctor agrees, it's time to apply for disability benefits.

If you haven't been seeing a doctor, now is the time to start. You need to have a lengthy medical record that supports your disability claim, including your diagnoses, your limitations, your test results, and your treatment plans. Once you've had several doctors' appointments, ask if your doctor thinks your limitations are disabling and about your long-term prospects for work. Only then should you apply for disability.

Before You Apply for Disability Benefits

Before you apply for benefits, make sure you have the names and addresses of all doctors and clinics you've visited over the last five years, and the names and addresses of your employers from the last 15 years. But applying for benefits involves more than putting contact information in the disability application. The most important step you can take is to make sure that you have enough information in your medical records for Social Security to make a decision on your claim.

When you're ready to apply, see our article on applying for Social Security disability benefits.

Updated October 13, 2022

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