Decoding disability: Autoimmune disorders

There are many illnesses and injuries that, under certain circumstances, qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. Some are well-understood and easy to document, while others are considered invisible, because those who suffer from such diseases may look perfectly “fine” or “normal” to the casual observer.

Invisible diseases are too often misunderstood, underestimated and difficult to document medically. And high on this list is a category of diseases known as autoimmune disorders. In today’s post, we’ll discuss some basic information about autoimmune disorders, including lupus.

The easiest way to conceptualize autoimmune disorder is as a dangerously overactive immune system. When bacteria and viruses enter our bodies and threaten to make us sick, our immune system fights off these foreign invaders by creating antibodies. When someone suffers from an autoimmune disorder, however, their immune system does not correctly differentiate between the body’s healthy tissues and germs/bacteria/viruses.

In short, the body’s own immune system begins to attack the body itself. The result is inflammation, fatigue and chronic pain that can travel to any part of the body. Perhaps the known autoimmune disorder is lupus. It is chronic, non-contagious and incurable.

People suffering from lupus often experience the disease in flares. When a flare occurs, it is characterized by chronic pain, fatigue and inflammation. It may also present externally as a facial rash shaped somewhat like a butterfly. Treatment, which typically includes the use of immunosuppressants, can lessen symptoms but can also leave someone vulnerable to infections.

Depending on the severity of the condition, lupus suffers may be able to enjoy relatively normal health much of the time, with occasional debilitating flares. Others experience flares often or constantly, and this can make it nearly impossible to work or lead a normal life.

Like many autoimmune disorders, lupus is an “invisible” disease. A diagnosis is not as simple as a blood test or other procedure, and pain symptoms are necessarily self-reported. Because lupus is difficult to “prove” on paper, many lupus sufferers have a difficult time getting approved for SSDI benefits. They may need to appeal claims more than once and will need to provide medical evidence that is as strong as possible.

You can certainly apply for SSDI benefits on your own, but many people find it very helpful to rely on the skills and experience that a Social Security disability attorney can provide.