Obtaining disability benefits for Migraine Headaches
Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of migraine headaches?
Author: Attorney Greg Reed
The Migraine Research Foundation estimates that 35 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches; 43% of women and 18% of men will have a migraine headache at some time in their lives. According to the Foundation, migraine headaches are the world’s sixth most disabling illness and the third most prevalent illness. In the United States one in four households has a person suffering with migraine headaches. If you are suffering from the effects of migraine headaches you may qualify for disability benefits .
A migraine is a severe headache that is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.
Each person experiences migraines differently, but the most common symptoms include:
- Pain in temples or behind one eye or ear
- Sensitivity to light, noise or strong smells
- Seeing spots or flashing lights
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blurry vision or not being able to see at all
- Temporary vision loss
- Severe thirst
- Food cravings
Migraine headaches may occur in stages and an attack can last between 4 and 72 hours.
The two most common types of migraines are those with aura and those without aura. Migraine aura is like a warning stage that may occur before the onset of a migraine headache and refers to a number of sensory disturbances, such as dots or zigzags in vision. Some individuals may also experience dizziness, ringing in the ears or be unable to speak clearly. About 25% of individuals experience the aura stage.
A migraine without aura, known as common migraine, is a severe headache occurring on one side of the head with throbbing pain that worsens during everyday exercise, like walking.
The person may be sensitive to light and/or sound and is likely to feel nauseous and vomit. The majority of migraine sufferers experience this type of migraine.
Contact a Social Security disability attorney at 512-454-4000 for a free consultation and see if you can get disability benefits while suffering from Migraine Headaches. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!
Some individuals may experience some symptoms a day or two before an actual migraine attack, such as depression, mood changes, neck stiffness, food craving and increased thirst; this is known as the prodrome stage.
Twenty-four hours after a migraine attack, called the postdrome phase, a person may experience a sensitivity to light and sound, confusion, dizziness, moodiness, weakness or a feeling of being drained.
Migraine headaches vary in frequency.
They can be episodic (occurring only a couple of times a year), high frequency (occurring 8-14 days per month), or chronic (occurring more than 15 days per month). More than 4 million people experience chronic migraines daily.
Researchers currently believe migraines are linked to changes in the brain and genetic and environmental factors.
A migraine headache begins when overactive nerve cells send out signals that cue the release of chemicals like serotonin. Serotonin helps regulate pain in the nervous system. When serotonin levels are high, blood vessels in the brain shrink; when serotonin levels are low, blood vessels swell causing pain. Other triggers related to migraines include:
- Hormonal changes
- Emotional stress
- Skipping meals
- Loud noises, bright lights and strong smells
- Certain foods like aged cheese
- Alcohol, especially wine
- Food additives
- Some medications, such as contraceptives and vasodilators that widen blood vessels
- Change in weather or barometric pressure
- Physical exertion
- Changes in sleep patterns
Because there is currently no cure for migraines, treatment focuses on relieving pain and managing symptoms.
Doctors can prescribe medications that may be taken during an attack as well as preventive medications to reduce the frequency and severity of headaches. Patients can also avoid things that trigger migraines, reduce stress and get enough sleep.
Qualifying for Disability for Migraine Headaches
Migraines may interfere with a person’s work and social life and their ability to care for themselves.
Approximately 90% of individuals who experience migraines are unable to work during an active migraine headache and often hours or days after an attack. The Job Accommodation Network estimates that 15.7 million workdays are lost in the U.S. due to migraines
Because migraine headaches are not recognized as an impairment in Social Security’s Blue Book, there are no specific guidelines to be eligible for Social Security Disability Income.
In order to qualify for disability benefits, you must prove that your migraine headaches are so severe that you cannot perform basic work tasks on a regular basis. You must be severely limited in concentrating, comprehending instructions, getting along with others, lifting objects, walking, and standing or sitting for long periods of time. In addition to limitations caused by migraines, Social Security will consider your age, education and past employment. It is easier to qualify for disability benefits, if you are over the age of 50, have little education and a history of unskilled labor. Social Security is interested in whether you can do any full-time job, not just your previous job; if Social Security decides you are capable of another type of employment, your application will be denied.
Social Security will want to see objective medical evidence supporting your application, including:
- A doctor’s diagnosis of recurrent migraines;
- Results of tests performed to rule out other conditions;
- Imaging tests, such as a CT scan, MRI, and EEG;
- Doctors’ notes regarding the frequency and severity of migraines;
- Records from ER visits and hospitalizations due to migraines;
- List of medications and other treatments tried, including results and side effects.
Make sure you obtain regular medical treatment.
An applicant who contends that their migraines are disabling but has failed to try several different medications or follow a doctor’s recommendations will not be credible to Social Security. It is also helpful to keep a personal record of daily tasks you need help with when you are having a migraine attack, like washing or cooking, and shopping. Keep track of the frequency and length of attacks as well as days you miss work because of migraine attacks because these factors play a very important part in whether or not you are approved. You must prove that your medical condition has reduced your work productivity by at least 15 % of the acceptable level. If you consistently need to stop work because of a migraine headache, or miss work several days per month, you will not be able to maintain full-time employment.
Migraine headaches can be as disabling as any other serious medical condition, but applying for disability benefits may be problematic.
Migraines may make it difficult to fill out forms; if you have problems reading, concentrating or writing, you should consider getting help. An experienced Social Security attorney can review your case and take over the burdens of gathering evidence and filing your application, preventing mistakes and improving your chances for approval.
In order to qualify for Social Security Disability, you will need to satisfy a few specific requirements in two categories as determined by the Social Security Administration.
The first category is the Work Requirements which has two tests.
- The Duration of Work test. Whether you have worked long enough to be covered under SSDI.
- The Current Work Test. Whether you worked recently enough for the work to actually count toward coverage.
The second category is the Medical Eligibility Requirement.
- Are you working? Your disability must be “total”.
- Is your medical condition severe? Your disability must be “severe” enough to interfere with your ability to perform basic work-related activities, such as walking, sitting, and remembering.
- Is your medical condition on the List of Impairments? The SSA has a “List of Impairments” that automatically qualify as “severe” disabilities. If your disease is not listed this does not mean you cannot get disability, it means you must prove you cannot maintain employment due to your limitations.
- Can you do the work you did before? SSDI rules look at whether your medical condition prevents you from doing the work you did prior to developing the condition.
- Can you do any other type of work? If you cannot do your prior work, an evaluation is made as to whether you can perform any other kind of work.
More details can be found on our Qualifying for Disability page.
Disability benefits are an important source of income for those who are unable to work. If you are not able to work due to accident or illness, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability or Long Term Disability benefits. If you have applied for benefits and been denied, contact the attorneys at Bemis, Roach and Reed for a free consultation. Call 512-454-4000 and get help NOW.
Author: Attorney Greg Reed has been practicing law for 29 years. He is Superlawyers rated by Thomson Reuters and is Top AV Preeminent® and Client Champion Gold rated by Martindale Hubbell. Through his extensive litigation Mr. Reed obtained board certification from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Greg is admitted to practice in the United States District Court – all Texas Districts and the United States Court of Appeals-Fifth Circuit. Mr. Reed is a member of the Travis County Bar Association, Texas Trial Lawyers Association, past Director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association, and an Associate member of the American Board of Trial Advocates. Mr. Reed and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.
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