Cirrhosis of the liver is a progressive, chronic disorder that causes healthy liver tissue to be replaced by fibrous scar tissue. The replacement of healthy liver tissue results in a progressive loss of liver function, which may lead to the need for a liver transplant. A diagnosis of cirrhosis means that your liver is a late stage of scarring; advanced cirrhosis can prevent the liver from functioning.
Cirrhosis of the liver is most often associated with alcohol abuse, hepatitis C, or fatty liver disease. However, there are a variety of other causes. Primary biliary cirrhosis is an autoimmune disease that is thought to be unrelated to viruses or toxicity.
Some types of cirrhosis damage can be stopped or delayed with medications and avoidance of alcohol (if your cirrhosis is alcohol-related). However, once liver damage has occurred it is irreversible to some extent. Some severe cases of cirrhosis may require a liver transplant, if the cirrhosis patient is an acceptable transplant candidate. (A liver transplant means automatic approval for disability for one year.)
Can a disability claim be won on the basis of having cirrhosis? Depending on the severity of cirrhosis and the extent to which an individual is incapacitated from engaging in their past work or any other type of work, the answer is yes.
The SSA evaluates cirrhosis under the section in its impairment listing manual devoted to chronic liver disease. Included in this section are related conditions such as chronic hepatitis, non‑alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), and Wilson's disease.
A disability claims examiner who sees an allegation of cirrhosis will look for documentation in the applicant's medical record that the applicant has had esophageal bleeding and varices, ascites (excess fluid in the abdominal cavity), and elevated serum bilirubin levels. Physical findings and lab values are integral to a cirrhosis case. A liver biopsy indicating chronic liver disease should also be in the applicant's file.
For the details on the requirements of the SSA's impairment listing for liver disease and cirrhosis, which is quite involved, read our article on disability for chronic liver disease. We have a separate article on primary biliary cirrhosis, now known as primary biliary cholangitis.