Can I Get Social Security Disability or SSI for Pancreatitis?

The pain and weight loss associated with chronic pancreatitis can make it difficult to work full time.

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Pancreatitis is a condition involving inflammation of the pancreas, a gland located behind the stomach that aids in the production of digestive enzymes, as well as insulin, an all-important substance that allows the body to regulate and control its sugar levels.

Symptoms of Pancreatitis

Generally marked by abdominal pain, nausea, vomitting, and even jaundice, pancreatitis can be chronic or acute and can be the result of excessive alcohol consumption, a viral infection, or gallbladder dysfunction. Malabsorption problems associated with chronic pancreatitis usually result in dramatic weight loss problems. Chronic pancreatitis can also lead to pancreatic cancer.

Types of Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is classified into three types.

  • Acute pancreatitis is a one-time episode, and the most common cause is gallstones.
  • Chronic pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas that continues after the source of the inflammation has been removed.
  • Hereditary pancreatitis results from a genetic abnormality that triggers enzyme production, resulting in inflammation of the pancreas.

Treatment for Pancreatitis

Treatment for pancreatitis is dependent on the cause of pancreatitis and the severity of the condition. Generally, pancreatitis flare-ups are treated with morphine to reduce pain and fluid replacement, and the ingestion of oral fats is limited. Medication is also given to correct malabsorption problems, along with treatment of the underlying condition if identified. Should an individual ''s condition worsen to necrotizing pancreas, high doses of an antibiotic such as Imipenem (because it saturates the pancreas) is given in an effort to prevent tissue death.

Disability Benefits for Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is a very painful condition that can cause functional limitations in an affected individual. Often individuals with chronic pancreatitis will suffer from diarrhea, pain, and weight loss, and these can affect an individual's ability to work and hold down a full-time job. Unfortunately, the Social Security Administration does not have a specific impairment listing for pancreatitis. But if you've experienced severe weight loss, the SSA will evaluate your condition based its weight loss listing.

Severe weight loss is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of less than 17.5, shown on at least two separate tests at least 60 days apart within a 6-month period.

If you haven't had severe weight loss, the SSA will look at your medical records and the doctor's opinion of how much work you can do to figure out what your "functional capacity" is. For instance, if the medical records say the patient is limited to walking and standing a certain number of hours, the SSA will take that these exertional limitations into account when giving the applicant an "residual functional capacity" (RFC) assessment. The patient's RFC will be for sedentary, light, medium, or heavy work.

If the patient also has nonexertional limitations, such as needing frequent bathroom breaks or rest breaks due to fatigue, the RFC should mention that as well. These types of limitations may make it impossible to do even sedentary work. Similarly, if the patient's pain medication makes it hard for the patient to focus, the RFC may say that the applicant should be limited to simple, unskilled work, or even less than unskilled work.

The SSA will then consider the applicant's RFC, age, prior job skills, and education level to judge whether the applicant can be expected to work. If the SSA decides the applicant can't work due to these factors, he or she will be granted disability benefits through a "medical-vocational allowance." Learn more about how the SSA uses the RFC and vocational factors to determine disability.

Note that if you have alcoholic chronic pancreatitis, and you are still drinking, the SSA may deny you benefits. For more information, see our article on how alcohol use can keep you from getting disability.

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