Can You Get Disability Benefits for High Blood Pressure?

Find out when your high blood pressure might help you qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

Updated by , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is defined as consistently having a blood pressure reading where either number is higher than 130/80. A normal blood pressure reading is under 120/80, and a blood pressure reading that falls between the two ranges is defined as "elevated," or pre-hypertension.

The top number in your blood pressure reading shows the pressure when your heart beats (called the "systolic" pressure). The bottom number is your blood pressure between beats—when your heart rests (called the "diastolic" pressure). If either number is elevated, it can cause more serious health issues, including heart disease.

Hypertension affects a large number of Americans. In many cases, there's no clearly identified cause—this is called "essential hypertension." High blood pressure is considered "secondary hypertension" when it's caused by another medical condition, like kidney disease or adrenal gland disorders.

Here's what you need to know about how Social Security considers hypertension and when you might be able to get disability benefits if you have high blood pressure.

Symptoms and Treatment of High Blood Pressure

Many people with hypertension have no apparent symptoms. High blood pressure (HBP) is often discovered during a regular check-up or when you seek treatment for another reason. Doctors will usually look at several blood pressure readings at various times of day before diagnosing hypertension.

If you have high blood pressure, especially if it's very high, you might experience any of the following symptoms:

Untreated hypertension can also increase your risk of heart disease and brain disorders. But with treatment, high blood pressure can often be controlled. Treatment for hypertension generally starts with lifestyle changes such as:

  • increasing exercise
  • losing weight
  • stopping smoking, and
  • eating a healthier diet—including reducing your sodium intake.

Medications are also often used to treat hypertension and can be very effective. If you take high blood pressure medicine, you'll likely need to take it for the rest of your life.

Is High Blood Pressure a Disability?

Although it can be a factor in getting disability benefits, Social Security no longer considers high blood pressure a disability in and of itself. And hypertension is no longer included in Social Security's listing of impairments (also called the Blue Book).

So having high blood pressure won't automatically qualify you for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits. But high blood pressure can cause or contribute to other health problems that are listed in the Blue Book, including:

Qualifying for Social Security Disability Due to Hypertension

If you've been diagnosed with hypertension, you might have difficulty with some tasks or you might have restrictions from your doctor that prevent you from doing some activities. You might feel that you're unable to work. But improved treatments have made high blood pressure easier to control—meaning Social Security isn't likely to approve your disability claim based on hypertension alone.

To get SSDI or SSI benefits, you'll probably have to show Social Security that your medical condition prevents you from working at any type of job. And you'll need evidence to back it up.

When You Have High Blood Pressure and Another Condition

Over the years, uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause damage to your blood vessels, resulting in heart disease, kidney damage, eye problems, or brain injuries. If your hypertension has caused serious damage to other organs, you might qualify for Social Security disability benefits based on that damage and the resulting limitations.

For instance, if high blood pressure has caused you to have a heart condition, you might qualify for SSDI or SSI benefits by meeting or equaling the listing for that heart condition. Likewise, if you've suffered kidney damage and vision problems due to undiagnosed hypertension, the combined effect of those disorders might qualify you for disability.

If you have secondary hypertension, you might qualify for disability based on the medical condition that caused your high blood pressure. For instance, if your hypertension was caused by an immune disorder like lupus or scleroderma, you might be able to meet the listing for the underlying disorder.

How Does Hypertension Affect Your Ability to Function?

When you're applying for disability benefits, Social Security is most concerned with the symptoms you experience and the way they limit your daily activities. For instance, if you have hypertension that's well controlled with medicine, a restrictive diet, and no other serious health conditions, you won't qualify for disability benefits.

But if your high blood pressure has caused a serious heart condition, like an enlarged heart, the resulting symptoms might seriously limit the kind of work you could do. Whether your medical condition was caused by hypertension or your high blood pressure was caused by something else, you can get disability benefits if you can demonstrate that you have limitations that make you unable to work in any type of job on a consistent basis.

Social Security's Disability Determination Process

After you apply for disability, a claims examiner at your state's Disability Determination Services (DDS) office will review your application and request copies of your medical records from your medical providers. If your condition doesn't meet a listing, the examiner will review these records and (working with a medical professional) will assign you a "residual functional capacity" (RFC) based on your limitations.

Your RFC is the most strenuous work you can be expected to perform, given your condition. You'll receive an RFC rating for one of the following:

  • sedentary work
  • light work
  • medium work, or
  • heavy work.

If you're 50 or older, the claims examiner will decide whether you're disabled using Social Security's medical-vocational grid rules. The grid rules determine disability based on your RFC along with your:

  • age
  • education level
  • previous work experience, and
  • transferable job skills.

Under the grid rules, winning a Social Security disability claim gets easier the older you are. (Learn more about when your RFC qualifies you as disabled).

If you're younger than 50 or otherwise don't qualify as disabled under the grid rules, you could still get disability benefits if you can show that there's no kind of job you could realistically do based on your limitations (including non-exertional limitations or those caused by a mental impairment).

Getting SSI Due to High Blood Pressure

In addition to the above medical requirements, if you're applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) due to hypertension and other medical conditions, you'll have to provide information regarding your income and assets. SSI is a needs-based program, and to qualify, you must fall under specific limits in these areas. For more information, see our article on SSI eligibility.

Applying for Social Security Benefits for High Blood Pressure

There are multiple ways to apply for Social Security disability benefits. You can apply at your local Social Security Administration office or via telephone at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778). You can also apply for SSDI online or start your SSI application online.

Regardless of how you apply, you'll need detailed information regarding your medical conditions and treatments to complete the application. Although the claims examiner will request your medical records, you can also submit any records that you have in your possession.

Medical Evidence to Submit to Social Security

While a hypertension diagnosis alone won't qualify you for benefits, no matter how high your blood pressure is, your medical records should reflect a diagnosis of hypertension. Additionally, your disability claim file should include the following:

  • records of all blood pressure readings taken by your doctor or yourself
  • results of any other tests that you were given (for example, a cholesterol or kidney function test)
  • reports indicating the treatments you've tried (including lifestyle remedies and medications) and the results of the treatments
  • your doctor's notes regarding your reports of any symptoms you experience due to your hypertension, and
  • complete medical records on any other condition that impacts your ability to work.

What Happens After You File Your Application for HBP?

After you file a disability application, you'll be notified of your claims examiner's name and phone number by mail. You might receive other paperwork to complete, and you might be called for a telephone interview. You could also be sent for a medical examination at Social Security's expense (called a "consultative exam").

Once a decision has been made on your claim, which usually takes three to four months, you'll be notified by mail. It's not unheard of for it to take much longer for this decision to come, but you can check the status of your claim online or contact your claims examiner with any questions.

If Social Security denies your disability claim, you can appeal the decision by filing a Request for Reconsideration. If your reconsideration is denied, you'll be able to request a hearing.

(Learn why you should consider having an attorney represent you at your disability appeal hearing.)

VA Disability for Hypertension

Unlike Social Security, the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) does consider high blood pressure alone a disability. The VA rates disability due to hypertension from 10% to 60% using the following scale:

  • 10%: diastolic pressure of 100-109 or systolic pressure of 160-199
  • 20%: diastolic pressure of 110-119 or systolic pressure of 200+
  • 40%: diastolic pressure of 120-129 (regardless of systolic pressure), and
  • 60%: diastolic pressure of 130+ (regardless of systolic pressure).

You can get VA disability (monthly compensation) for hypertension if all of the following are true:

  • You can show that your high blood pressure is service-related (or due to a presumptive condition).
  • You can show that your hypertension appeared (or got worse) while you were serving in the military or within a year of your service.
  • Your hypertension is severe enough to meet the requirements for a disability rating of at least 10%.

Note that hypertension is now eligible for a presumptive service connection due to exposure to Agent Orange. If you served in Vietnam and have a VA disability rating of at least 10% due to high blood pressure, you'll qualify for disability benefits under the Agent Orange Act of 1991.

You can get Social Security benefits and VA compensation at the same time, but getting approved for VA compensation doesn't mean you'll be approved for SSDI or SSI.

Updated November 2, 2022

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