Various types of heart disease and cardiovascular problems can qualify for disability through the Social Security Administration (SSA), if they cause severe limitations in what the patient can do.
To determine whether your heart problems qualify for disability benefits, Social Security will look at whether you've had:
These factors mean that your doctor has likely restricted the activities you can do, which can limit the type of jobs you can do and lead Social Security to find that you're disabled.
Here are the most common heart conditions for which people apply for Social Security disability benefits (SSDI, the program for people who've worked many years) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI, the needs-based program). Other cardiovascular disorders can be found in our section on disability for heart and cardiovascular conditions.
Coronary artery disease occurs when the arteries become clogged and narrowed and eventually restrict blood flow to the heart—a condition known as atherosclerosis. Without adequate blood, the heart becomes starved of oxygen, and this oxygen deprivation causes a cramping of the heart muscle known as ischemia.
Coronary artery disease is diagnosed by electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), exercise stress tests, and cardiac catheterization (generally referred to as a cath, which will reveal the level of blockage in a main artery).
If you have coronary heart disease, you'll need to show Social Security that you suffer from angina and that you've had abnormal exercise stress tests or imaging results, or that you've had several angioplasties or bypass surgeries. For the details, see our article on disability benefits for coronary artery disease.
Congestive heart failure (CHF) is an aspect of heart disease where blood returning to the heart through the veins backs up, causing congestion in the tissues. This occurs because the heart can't pump enough blood to the body's other organs. Often swelling (edema) results, as this heart condition affects the kidneys' ability to dispose of sodium and water. Sometimes fluid collects in the lungs and interferes with breathing, causing shortness of breath, especially when a person is lying down. People 40 and older have a 1 in 5 chance of developing CHF in their lifetimes.
CHF is often diagnosed during a physical examination, at which time a doctor can listen to your chest with a stethoscope for the crackling sounds of fluid in the lungs, heart murmur, or the presence of a very quick heartbeat. A doctor may tap on the chest to find out if fluid has built up.
A chest x-ray can reveal an enlarged heart or the presence of fluid around the lungs. Electrocardiography (ECG or EKG) is used to check for an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), stress on the heart, or past heart attack. Echocardiography is used to determine valve function, heart wall motion, and overall size of the heart.
To get disability benefits for CHF, you'll have to show Social Security that you have a poor ejection fraction or abnormal imaging results, plus a poor exercise stress test or several episodes of heart failure that required hospitalization in the past year.
Arteriosclerosis, commonly called "hardening of the arteries," is an aspect of heart disease that occurs when fatty or calcium deposits in the artery walls cause them to thicken. This condition is often an inevitable result of aging; the walls of blood vessels become stiffer as time passes, as does all connective tissue of the body.
Arteriosclerosis is a term that actually comprises a group of coronary diseases. These diseases often occur in people who have had diabetes for a long time.
The most well-known result of this condition is a heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction. In most heart attacks, both atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis are present. Atherosclerosis causes plaque build-up in the arteries, and arteriosclerosis stiffens the arteries so that they cannot expand to compensate for the blockage caused by plaque formation. Blood flow through the heart is restricted by the obstruction caused by the plaque.
Social Security evaluates whether arteriosclerosis or atherosclerosis qualifies for disability benefits under its ischemic heart disease listing.
An aneurysm is a bulge in part of an artery that stems from weakness in the wall of the blood vessel. If an aneurysm ruptures, it can cause fatal bleeding. Aneurysms can occur in the aorta, the brain, or other arteries.
To get disability benefits for an aneurysm, you'll have to show that it's too risky for you to exert yourself because imaging tests show that you have an aneurysm that is separating from the artery wall, meaning that it's at risk of rupturing. For the details, see our article on disability benefits for aneurysms.
You can start your claim for Social Security disability benefits in one of the following ways:
Getting approved for disability for heart disease isn't easy. Your restrictions and limitations have to be pretty severe for Social Security to say that there are no jobs you can do (though it's a bit easier if you've over age 50 or 55.) If your doctor feels you can no longer safely do many of your past work activities and you're getting close to retirement age, you may not have too much trouble getting on disability for a heart problem. But you might consider getting help with your application from an experienced disability advocate. Your advocate can help gather your medical records, submit a brief on your behalf to Social Security, and represent you at your appeal hearing. You may be able to find a disability advocate here.
Updated November 16, 2022