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Syringomyelia and Qualifying for Disability Benefits
Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Syringomyelia?
Author Attorney Greg Reed:
Approximately 21,000 people in the United States are affected by syringomyelia. A relatively rare disease, syringomyelia is a long-term condition that causes fluid-filled cysts called syrinx to develop inside the spinal cord. Over time a cyst can enlarge, damaging the spinal cord and causing pain, weakness, and stiffness. The condition is also known as hydromyelia, syringohydromyelia or Morvan disease. Though the disorder is most common in adults between the ages of 20 and 40, a person of any age can develop syringomyelia. If you are unable to work because of syringomyelia, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.
Symptoms of syringomyelia depend on the size and location of cysts as well as the extent of the condition and how far it has progressed.
As a cyst grows it can damage nerves in the center of the spinal cord, leading to chronic pain. Some people who suffer from syringomyelia experience few symptoms or none at all. Usually signs appear gradually over several years, but some symptoms may arise suddenly, for example, after an injury.
The most common symptoms include:
- Muscle weakness in the arms, hands and shoulders;
- Pain in the neck, arms, hands and shoulders;
- Loss of sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures;
- Numbness and tingling;
- Loss of reflexes;
- Muscle stiffness and loss of mobility;
- Uncoordinated movements;
- Involuntary muscle contractions;
- Heavy sweating;
- Swings in blood pressure levels;
- Spinal curvature (scoliosis); and
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 Syringomyelia. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!
It is still not clear what causes syringomyelia.
It can be congenital, something that happens during pregnancy, or acquired, such as a cyst forming in a damaged section of the spinal cord. Syringomyelia can also be idiopathic, meaning it happens for reasons doctors don’t understand. The condition develops when the fluid that surrounds and protects the brain and spinal cord, called cerebrospinal fluid, collects in the spinal cord and forms a cyst. The main causes of this blockage are usually trauma or a birth defect.
Other disorders that may lead to syringomyelia include:
- Meningitis – inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord;
- Spinal cord injury;
- Tumor on the spinal cord; or
- Chiari malformation – a condition that occurs when brain tissue protrudes into the spinal canal.
If a doctor suspects syringomyelia, in addition to a complete medical exam they will conduct an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT scan of the brain and spinal cord.
Sometimes syringomyelia is discovered when an MRI is ordered for a different medical reason. There is currently no cure for syringomyelia. Treatment depends on the severity and progression of an individual’s symptoms and whether they have symptoms at all. If a person is not experiencing symptoms, monitoring the condition with regular MRIs and neurological exams may be all that’s necessary. If syringomyelia causes symptoms that interfere with a person’s daily life, or symptoms progress, surgery to remove pressure placed on the spinal cord may be necessary. Surgery, however, is not always successful. Cysts may remain or recur after surgery, and fluid can build up again. Even with treatment, an individual can still have chronic pain, difficulty walking or decreased function in their arms and hands.
Qualifying for Disability for Syringomyelia
Though syringomyelia is not specifically named in Social Security’s Blue Book, the condition is addressed in Section 11.08, Spinal cord disorders.
In Section 11.00 Neurological, Social Security evaluates “epilepsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, coma or persistent vegetative state (PVS), and neurological disorders that cause disorganization of motor function, bulbar and neuromuscular dysfunction, communication impairment, or a combination of limitations in physical and mental functioning.” A simple diagnosis of syringomyelia is not enough to qualify for Social Security Disability Income; an applicant must meet a disability listing or their physical and mental limitations must prevent them for working at any job.
In order to qualify for SSDI under syringomyelia, an applicant must provide medical evidence proving they have one of the following sets of symptoms.
- A complete loss of function of any body part lasting for at least 3 consecutive months. “Loss of function” means any normal function such as sensation or bladder function, not paralysis.
- Disorganization of motor function in two extremities resulting in an inability to stand up from a seated position, balance while standing or walking, or use the upper extremities. Symptoms must last for 3 consecutive months.
- Marked limitation in physical functioning and in one of the following areas of mental functioning, both persisting for 3 consecutive months:
- Understanding, remembering, or applying information; or
- Interacting with others; or
- Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; or
- Adapting or managing oneself.
Note that “Marked limitation” means worse than moderate, but less than extreme.”
If your disability does not match the criteria of Section 11.08, you must show that your limitations are so great that you are unable to perform any job.
Syringomyelia can cause a decrease in muscle tone and loss of sensation that can impact a person’s ability to perform both exertional and non-exertional activities. Social Security will conduct a residual functional capacity assessment (RFC) to determine what jobs you can do by evaluating your ability to perform physical tasks like lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling, and your ability to use your hands and fingers. Social Security will also take into consideration any problems you may have in thinking and concentrating. If Social Security finds there is no work you are capable of performing because of your limitations, you will be approved for SSDI.
If you have syringomyelia and your medical condition has prevented you from working, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.
Applying for SSDI can be time-consuming and confusing; initial applications are often denied. An experienced Social Security attorney can help you evaluate your case and guide you through the process, greatly increasing your chances for a successful claim.
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 Lonnie Roach 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. Because of his extensive litigation experience Mr. Roach is board certified from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Lonnie is admitted to practice in the United States District Court - all Texas Districts and the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Mr. Roach is a member of the Texas trial lawyers association, has been active in the Austin Bar Association and is a past Director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association. Mr. Roach and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.
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