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How does Social Security evaluate lupus as a disabling condition?

Systemic lupus erythematosus, abbreviated as SLE or simply known as lupus, is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the body’s own tissue. Inflammation may occur in the joints, skin, kidney, brain, lungs, heart, and blood cells. Lupus is more common in women than men, and most frequently starts in women in their fertility age. Lupus can be difficult to diagnose as its symptoms are often similar to those of other autoimmune diseases. The common signs and symptoms of lupus include joint pain, stiffness, or swelling; fatigue; fever; fingers and toes which can change blue or white; shortness of breath; chest pain; headaches; and memory loss. One of the most common symptoms of lupus is a butterfly-shaped rash that appears on the face across the cheeks or nose. Often, lupus flares may be triggered by sunlight exposure. Having an infection may also initiate a lupus flare or cause a relapse. When a person has an active lupus flare, they may feel fatigued, feverish, and experience weight loss. If you are experiencing the symptoms of lupus, your doctor may order a series of blood tests to confirm the diagnosis. One crucial test is called an ANA test. If your ANA test is negative, you do not have lupus. However, if you have a positive ANA test, you may have lupus, and will need more specific antibody tests to confirm the lupus diagnosis. Your doctor may also order chest X-rays or echocardiograms if he or she believes lupus may be affecting your lungs or heart.

There is no cure for lupus, but the condition may be managed with medication. Lupus treatments suppress the immune system, preventing it from being overactive. This will prevent the immune system from attacking the organs and consequently causing permanent organ damage. One common drug used is an antimalarial drug called hydroxychloroquine, or Plaquenil. Plaquenil will help control mild lupus-related symptoms and prevent flaring of symptoms. Upset of the stomach is a common side effect of Plaquenil. Very rarely, one may experience damage to the retina as a side effect of Plaquenil. Your doctor may also prescribe a corticosteroid to treat lupus, such as prednisone. A high-dose steroid such as Medrol may be used when lupus is affecting tissue in the kidneys or brain. Some side effects of corticosteroids include weight gain, high blood pressure, increased risk of inflammation, bruising easily, diabetes, or thinning bones. Serious cases of lupus may require immunosuppressants such as methotrexate, mycophenolate, azathioprine, cyclosporine, or leflunomide. Some individuals with lupus are treated with biological drugs. One such drug is Benlysta, which is administered intravenously. Benlysta side effects may include nausea, diarrhea, and infection. Those who have not been helped by other lupus medications may take Rituximab, which is another biological drug that is also administered intravenously.

If you have been diagnosed with lupus and your symptoms are interfering with your ability to continue regular work activity, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. The legal team at LaBovick Law Group is ready to assist you with obtaining your benefits.

When the Social Security Administration reviews your application for disability benefits, the agency will first determine whether you are engaging in “substantial gainful activity,” or earning income from work activity that exceeds the monthly threshold set by the Social Security Administration. These figures are updated on an annual basis. To qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, your monthly income from work earnings after your date of disability (known as the “alleged onset date”) cannot exceed these income limits. If you are no longer working at all, you will pass this first step. If you have reduced to part-time work due to your condition, you will pass this step if your earnings are under the allowed amount. The team at LaBovick Law Group can assist you with determining whether your current monthly earnings fall under this threshold.

The Social Security Administration will then determine whether you have a severe medically determinable impairment. It is important to note that a diagnosis of lupus will not result in automatic approval. There must be medical documentation of your diagnosis, your symptoms, and your treatment. Therefore, the most important thing you can do if you are seeking disability benefits due to lupus is to see your medical providers on a regular basis. Lupus is typically treated by a rheumatologist, which is a doctor who specializes in autoimmune disorders. Although your primary care provider may be able to provide some treatment for lupus, the Social Security Administration may find that your lupus is not severe if you are not seeking treatment from a specialist. Rheumatologists will focus their treatment specifically on your lupus symptoms and may provide more thorough documentation of the symptoms that you experience that affects your ability to perform normal work activities. For example, rheumatologists may measure your grip strength, which is how strongly you are able to grasp with your hands. Grip strength is rated on a scale of 0 to 5. A grip strength of 3 or less is strong evidence of reduced functionality of your hands which the agency will take into account when evaluating your functional abilities. Lupus often involves swelling of the joints, and if your past job required constant use of your hands (such as typing at a computer), a reduced grip strength measurement will help establish that you are no longer able to perform that job.

The agency will review your jobs over the past fifteen years and determine whether you are still able to perform any of that work in light of the limitations you have due to your conditions. If you are unable to perform your previous jobs, the Social Security Administration will then determine whether there are any jobs that you are able to perform.

If you are suffering from lupus and unable to continue working, give LaBovick Law Group a call at (561) 625-8400 for a free case evaluation. We are here to fight for you to obtain the Social Security Disability benefits that you deserve.

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