Can You Get Disability Benefits for an Aneurysm?

Aortic aneurysms may qualify for Social Security disability automatically if they're severe enough.

By , Attorney · UC Davis School of Law
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney · Seattle University School of Law
Updated 2/10/2023

An aneurysm (ANN-yer-ism) happens when the wall of an artery—a blood vessel that carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to other parts of the body—is damaged, causing it to swell or balloon. If an aneurysm grows too large, it can rupture and cause bleeding, which can be fatal.

The most common type of aneurysm is an aortic aneurysm, located in the largest artery in the body (the aorta), which carries blood away from the left side of the heart. Aortic aneurysms are potentially life-threatening, and treatment may not always keep them under control. People who suffer from an aneurysm may not be able to perform work activities, let alone daily tasks.

Can You Get Social Security Disability for Aortic Aneurysm?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) can provide disability benefits for people who have symptoms or causes of aortic aneurysm severe enough to keep them from working full-time for at least twelve months.

Symptoms of Aneurysm

Aneurysms are generally asymptomatic in the early stages. But if an aneurysm ruptures, it can result in a rapid heart rate, pain, lightheadedness, nausea, and vomiting.

More specific signs and symptoms of an aneurysm depend on type and location.

  • Abdominal aortic aneurysms can appear as a throbbing mass in your abdomen. You may feel a steady pain in your torso and numbness or tingling in your feet. Ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysms can cause severe pain in your back or lower abdomen.
  • Cerebral aneurysms occur in the brain and can cause numbness on one side of your face or body, double vision, and a droopy eyelid. Ruptured cerebral aneurysms can cause neck stiffness, severe headaches, and loss of consciousness.
  • Peripheral aneurysms can occur in organs such as the intestine or spleen and block blood flow to the limbs. You may feel a throbbing lump in your leg, arm, or neck and develop painful sores on your fingers or toes.

Causes of Aneurysm

Causes of aneurysms include hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), Marfan syndrome (a connective tissues disorder), trauma to the body, cystic medial necrosis (loss of tissue and accumulation of mucus in the large arteries, and constant high blood pressure inside an artery.

How to Qualify for Disability Benefits for Aortic Aneurysm

You may qualify for disability benefits if your aneurysm is severe enough to meet the criteria of Listing 4.10, aneurysms of the aorta, in Social Security's "Blue Book." The Blue Book is a category of conditions that the agency has determined to be automatically disabling if certain medical evidence is provided.

Getting disability benefits this way is called "meeting a listed impairment." But even if your condition doesn't meet or equal the requirements of the aortic aneurysm listing, you can still qualify for disability if you can show that symptoms from your aneurysm (or related conditions) reduce your functional capacity to the point that you are unable to work.

Meeting the Listing for an Aortic Aneurysm

Listing 4.10 covers aneurysms of the aorta or major branches. To meet this listing, your aneurysm can be due to any cause, but it must:

  • be demonstrated by appropriate medically acceptable imaging tests, and
  • show "dissection" that is not controlled by prescribed treatment.

Dissection is when the inner arterial lining begins to separate from the wall of the artery. An aneurysm that is dissecting is at risk for rupturing. And an aneurysm with dissection is considered not controlled by treatment when you have:

  • persistent chest pain
  • increase in size of the aneurysm, or
  • compression of at least one branch of the aorta supplying organs, such as the heart, brain, or kidneys.

If you can demonstrate through the medical evidence that your aneurysm meets all of the above requirements, you will qualify for disability benefits. Additionally, if you have a dissecting aneurysm that causes other medical conditions—such as heart disease or kidney failure—the SSA will see if you meet the requirements of another cardiovascular or renal system listing.

Many people who've had successful aortic aneurysm repair surgery won't meet listing 4.10 because their condition improved enough to go back to work. But even after surgery, some people have trouble returning to work. Side effects from blood pressure medications (such as fatigue) or residual weakness can make holding down a full-time job challenging or impossible.

Reduced Functional Capacity Due to Aneurysm

The SSA can still find you disabled even if you don't meet the requirements of a listed impairment when you don't have the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform your past work or a job that's less demanding.

What's Your RFC?

Your RFC is a set of limitations that describes the most work activity that you can safely do on a regular basis. A typical RFC for somebody with an aortic aneurysm that wasn't successfully surgically repaired might include restrictions on lifting anything heavier than 10 or 20 pounds, or standing for longer than 2 or 4 hours out of an 8-hour day.

How Does Social Security Use Your RFC?

Social Security doesn't expect you to do a job that's beyond your RFC, so the agency will compare your current RFC with the demands of your past work to decide whether you can do those jobs today. If you can't do your past work, then depending on your age (over 50), education, and work history, you may qualify for disability under the medical-vocational grid.

People under the age of 50 (or for whom the grid rules don't apply) still need to show that they can't do their past work, but also need to prove that they can't do even the easiest sit-down jobs before the SSA can find them disabled. For more information, see our article on how Social Security decides if you can do past or other work.

How to Apply for Disability With the Social Security Administration

If you believe you may be disabled due to an aneurysm, you can start your application for Social Security benefits in several ways.

  • Contact your local SSA office to set up an appointment to file your application.
  • Call the SSA at (800) 772-1213 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday to get help from a claims representative.
  • Visit the SSA website to apply online at your own pace.

If you've already been denied Social Security benefits, you may want to contact an experienced disability lawyer who can help you through the appeals process and who can represent you at a hearing in front of an administrative law judge.

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