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Pancreatitis And Disability Claims: What You Need To Know

The pancreas is a vital organ that helps control enzymes in your digestive system and regulates the insulin your body needs to manage blood sugar levels. Pancreatitis is an inflammatory condition that affects around 80,000 people in the United States every year. In some cases, pancreatitis can lead to severe side effects that can permanently impact your life. Find out what causes pancreatitis, how the disease can affect your body, and how the condition can affect your long-term ability to work.

Causes of pancreatitis

Around 80 to 90 percent of all pancreatitis cases occur for one of two reasons – gallstones or alcohol abuse.

Gallstones occur when material builds up in the gallbladder. In some cases, one of these gallstones will block the pancreatic duct, which traps digestive fluids inside the pancreas. In turn, this can lead to pancreatitis. This condition commonly affects women over the age of 50.

Chronic pancreatitis often occurs in alcoholics. Doctors aren't entirely sure why alcohol causes this problem, but they believe it may occur because the poison interferes with pancreatic cells. Long-term alcohol abuse can cause permanent damage to the pancreas.

Other causes of the condition include:

  • Medications
  • Chemical exposure
  • Injury
  • Hereditary disease
  • Infections

It's important to note that doctors don't always know what causes the disease.

Side effects of pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis can occur suddenly and often has debilitating side effects. Enzymes from the pancreas irritate the body and leak into your abdominal cavity. This activity leads to severe abdominal pain, bloating, fever, vomiting and collapse. In the most severe cases, sufferers may experience respiratory, kidney or heart failure. A severe attack can also cause death.

People with chronic pancreatitis suffer these symptoms on an ongoing basis. Constant diarrhea often leads to serious weight loss, and regular attacks can make it hard to work or carry out normal daily activities. If the condition permanently damages the pancreas, you can develop diabetes, and people with the disease can also get pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatitis and SSA impairment listings

The Social Security Administration (SSA) publishes a list of impairments that disability examiners use to decide if somebody is eligible for disability insurance. Sometimes called the Blue Book, this listing outlines diseases in conditions in key categories and describes the symptoms and side effects that may call for a disability claim.

The SSA impairment listings do not specifically include pancreatitis, even though the condition can have a debilitating effect on your life. That aside, if the listings don't include your condition, you can sometimes lodge a claim that equals a similar condition and its symptoms. For example, the listing includes chronic liver disease. If you submit a claim that shows your pancreatitis meets the requirements of this condition, the SSA may approve your claim.

Pancreatitis sufferers commonly experience serious weight loss. Section 5.08 of the listing includes weight loss as an agreed impairment. The SSA defines severe weight loss as a body mass index of less than 17.5, shown in at least two tests in a 6-month period that are at least 60 days apart.

Even if your condition doesn't meet these requirements, you can still sometimes claim disability benefits.

Functional capacity

The SSA will also consider your residual functional capacity (RFC), which is a measure of how much your condition limits your ability to work. A disability claims examiner will work with a qualified medical consultant to assess your claim. He or she will use your medical records and doctor's information to assess what activity you can do. The assessor will also consider your age, prior skills and education level.

If the assessor decides that you can at least carry out some sedentary work, he or she may reject your claim. If the assessor believes that your RFC prevents you doing any type of job, he or she will normally grant benefits through the medical-vocational allowance.

The assessment process for disability claims uses medical evidence and analysis, but the final decision often depends on the assessor's qualified opinion. A trained disability attorney can help you prepare a strong case. It's generally difficult to appeal against an initial decision to decline your claim, so you should talk to an attorney as part of your first claim. 

Pancreatitis is a painful condition that affects thousands of people in the United States. If pancreatitis has affected your life, you should find out if you can claim disability insurance for the condition.