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Does Fibromyalgia Make Me Eligible For Social Security Benefits?

Fibromyalgia is a frustrating and mysterious disease, in which people experience long-term, body-wide pain and tender points in joints, muscles, tendons and other soft tissues. In some instances, those suffering from fibromyalgia may qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

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The prevalence of fibromyalgia is about 2%, affecting an estimated 5.0 million adults in 2005. Prevalence was much higher among women than men (3.4% versus 0.5%). However, men and children also can have the disorder. (Source: Center for Disease Control)

The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) 1990 criteria is used for clinical diagnosis classification. Diagnosis is based on the presence of widespread pain (at least 3 months duration) and tenderness on 11 of 18 pressure points. The exact locations of the pain are called tender points. Tender points are found in the soft tissue on the back of the neck, shoulders, sternum, lower back, hips, shins, elbows and knees. The pain then spreads out from these areas. The pain is described as deep aching, radiating, gnawing, shooting or burning, and ranges from mild to severe.

People with fibromyalgia tend to wake up with body aches and stiffness. For some patients, pain improves during the day and increases again during the evening, though many patients have day-long, non-stop pain.

Pain can increase with activity, cold or damp weather, anxiety and stress. There are many other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia, including:

  1. fatigue
  2. heightened response to tactile pressure
  3. tingling of the skin
  4. muscle spasms or twitching
  5. weakness of the limbs
  6. nerve pain
  7. bowel disturbances
  8. sleep disturbances

Fibromyalgia patients can also experience cognitive and mental problems, including:

  1. impaired concentration
  2. problems with short- and long-term memory and short-term memory consolidation
  3. impaired speed of performance
  4. inability to multi-task
  5. cognitive overload
  6. diminished attention span
  7. anxiety and depression

Fibromyalgia can appear with other illnesses, such as stress related disorders like chronic fatigue and post-traumatic stress.

If you’re diagnosed with fibromyalgia and can’t work as a result, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. If a disability decision cannot be made on medical factors alone, your situation will be evaluated based on a variety of physical and/or mental limitations you may have that prevent you from working. These include:

  1. How well you can perform physical tasks such as walking, standing, lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, reaching and handling objects; or
  2. How well you can perform mental tasks such as understanding, carrying out and remembering instructions; responding appropriately to supervision and co-workers; and dealing with work pressures.

Improving Your Chances for Obtaining Benefits

Because a diagnosis of fibromyalgia is based on the presence of widespread pain, it is especially important for you to:

  1. Keep a detailed medical history, including a calendar of notes about how you feel each day.
  2. Record any usual activities you could not do on any given day.
  3. Keep a detailed history of your current and past medications.
  4. See a doctor regularly and take the medication that he/she gives you so that your doctor can support your application for benefits.
  5. If possible, see a specialist, such as a rheumatologist or chronic pain specialist for a confirming diagnosis.
  6. Ask your doctor or other health care professional to track the course of your symptoms and to keep a record of any evidence of fatigue, depression, forgetfulness, dizziness, or other hard-to-document symptoms.
  7. Keep records of how your illness affected you on the job.

Helpful Links

Learn more about Social Security benefits and fibromyalgia by following the links below:

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