Can You Get Disability for Cirrhosis?

Learn the basics of getting Social Security disability benefits for cirrhosis.

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The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides disability benefits for people with medical conditions that prevent them from working for at least twelve months. If you have symptoms from cirrhosis that significantly interfere with your daily functioning, you might qualify for benefits.

What Is Cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis (sir-OH-sis) is a disorder that causes healthy liver tissue to be replaced by fibrous scar tissue, resulting in a progressive loss of liver function that may eventually require a liver transplant.

During the earlier stages of liver disease, you might not experience any symptoms. A diagnosis of cirrhosis means that your liver is in a late stage of scarring that can result in symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, and swelling (edema) in your legs and feet.

Causes of Cirrhosis

The most common causes of cirrhosis are:

  • long-term abuse of alcohol
  • chronic infections of hepatitis B or C, and
  • a severe form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (steatohepatitis).

Less common causes of cirrhosis include autoimmune diseases, such as primary biliary cirrhosis, and certain genetic diseases that affect how the liver works, like hemochromatosis.

Treatment for Cirrhosis

For less advanced cases of cirrhosis, treatment often involves making lifestyle changes, such as cutting out salt from your diet or losing weight. Medications called diuretics that help remove fluid and salt from your body may also be prescribed.

More severe cases of cirrhosis can require surgery to place a stent in the liver in order to relieve a backup of blood flow in the veins, or even a liver transplant.

Can You Get Disability for Cirrhosis?

In order to qualify for disability benefits, Social Security needs to see that symptoms from your cirrhosis are severe enough to prevent you from doing substantial gainful activity for at least one year. Depending on the type of disability benefit you're applying for, you might need to meet additional financial eligibility requirements, such as having a limited amount of assets.

Once the SSA determines that you meet the non-medical qualifications for benefits, the agency will review your medical records for evidence showing treatment of your cirrhosis, including:

  • progress notes from your doctors, preferably those who specialize in liver conditions
  • blood and urine tests showing the levels of liver proteins such as albumin or creatinine
  • pulse oximetry tests that measure the amount of oxygen in your blood
  • physical exams showing signs of liver disease like ascites (fluid buildup in the abdomen) or jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), and
  • mental exams showing cognitive changes that can result from poor liver function.

The above list isn't exhaustive—your record might also include documentation of a biopsy (a sample of tissue taken from your liver) or a blood transfusion. Make sure that you let the SSA know the dates and locations of any treatment you've been receiving for your cirrhosis so the agency can obtain all the records from your medical providers.

How to Qualify for Disability for Cirrhosis

Social Security has two ways you can qualify for disability:

  • your cirrhosis meets the listing for chronic liver disease, or
  • your cirrhosis symptoms prevent you from working at any job.

Qualifying for Disability By Meeting Listing 5.05, Chronic Liver Disease

The SSA maintains a category of disorders (called the Listing of Impairments, or the "Blue Book") that the agency considers especially severe. Disability applicants whose medical records contain tests or lab results that meet the requirements of a listed disorder can be awarded benefits without having to show that they can't do any work.

Cirrhosis is evaluated under Listing 5.05 for chronic liver disease. You need to show that the results of your lab tests are below specific levels of blood protein or oxygenation, so few applicants are found disabled this way unless they have very advanced cirrhosis.

The details of the listing are complicated, so it's a good idea to have your doctor write a medical source statement explaining how your test results meet the requirements of Listing 5.05.

If your cirrhosis has progressed to the point where you need a liver transplant, you'll be found disabled automatically for one year under a related listing, listing 5.09.

Qualifying for Disability by Showing You Can't Work Due to Cirrhosis

Very few disability applicants will have test results that meet the exacting criteria of the liver disease listing. But you can still be found disabled without those test results if you can show that symptoms from your cirrhosis prevent you from working at any job.

Social Security will review your medical records and your function report in order to make an assessment of your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC is a set of limitations that reflect the most you're capable of doing, physically and mentally, in a work setting. For example, if your cirrhosis symptoms cause your feet to swell after 15 minutes of standing, your RFC might state that you're limited to a sit-down job where you can elevate your legs to relieve pain.

The SSA uses your RFC to determine whether you can do any jobs you've done before. Depending on your age, education, and work history, the SSA will then use your RFC to see if any other jobs exist that you can do with your limitations. If the restrictions in your RFC rule out all jobs, the agency will find that you're disabled.

How to Apply for Benefits for Cirrhosis Disease

The SSA provides several ways for you to start your application for disability benefits.

  • Apply online at ssa.gov. Filing online has many benefits, such as giving you the option to save your application and return to it later. You'll also receive a confirmation number you can use to track your application.
  • Apply over the phone by calling Social Security's national number at 800-772-1213 from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. If you're deaf or hard of hearing, you can use the TTY number at 800-325-0778.
  • Apply in person at your local Social Security field office. You can use the locator tool here to find the office closest to you.

Consider contacting an experienced disability attorney or advocate for help with your cirrhosis claim. Your disability lawyer can help collect and submit your medical records, ask your doctors to write convincing opinion letters, and represent you in front of an administrative law judge.

Updated November 10, 2022

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