Addison’s disease occurs when the adrenal glands don’t produce certain hormones adequately. If this rare disease goes untreated, it can become life-threatening. However, even if it is treated, individuals with this disease can experience symptoms that leave them unable to perform certain tasks including working. If an individual is unable to work due to debilitating symptoms, they may be unable to pay their bills in a timely manner. Fortunately, the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers this disease a disability under the endocrine disorders. This means that individuals with Addison’s disease are eligible to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). This could financially help those suffering from this rare disease so that they have one less item to worry about.
What is Addison’s disease?
Hormones are meant to keep the body properly balanced. When hormones are unbalanced, this can lead to certain complications. Addison’s disease occurs the adrenal glands don’t produce enough cortisol and aldosterone, which are two hormones. Cortisol is meant to control the body’s response to stress. Aldosterone helps regulate blood pressure by helping the kidneys balance salt and potassium levels. These hormones become unbalanced when the adrenal cortex is damaged, which is the outer layers of the adrenal glands.
It’s believed that a common cause is due to the body attacking the adrenal glands, more commonly known as an autoimmune disease. This attack damages the adrenal cortex, which is what causes the hormonal imbalance. However, on rare occasions, this disease can be caused by a problem in the pituitary gland or hypothalamus, which are both located in the brain. This is known as secondary adrenal insufficiency. The pituitary gland and hypothalamus are responsible for telling the body to produce hormones, so if they tell the body to stop producing the necessary hormones in the adrenal glands, the glands fail. People with this disease may not feel symptoms right away as it progresses slowly.
Symptoms of Addison’s disease
The symptoms of this disease aren’t readily obvious. Unfortunately, Addison’s disease progresses very slowly, so people don’t typically feel any symptoms until it’s progressed quite a bit. If symptoms present themselves, they may include:
- Muscle weakness
- Low blood sugar
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Low blood pressure
- Dizziness or fainting
- Craving salty foods
- Abdominal pain
- Joint pain
- Darkened skin (hyperpigmentation)
- Loss of body hair
- Low sex drive
If symptoms become too severe, individuals may experience an Addisonian crisis. This crisis is also known as acute adrenal failure because the adrenal glands aren’t producing the right amount of cortisol. Symptoms of an adrenal crisis include:
- Lower back pain
- Organ failure
- Mental confusion
- Loss of consciousness
Individuals experiencing any of the symptoms above need to see a doctor as soon as possible as they might be life-threatening.
Types of Addison’s disease
There are two types of Addison’s disease: primary adrenal insufficiency and secondary adrenal insufficiency. Primary adrenal insufficiency is a result of severely damaged adrenal glands. The damage is so severe that they can’t produce any hormones. This is typically due to the immune system attacking the glands. However, it can be caused by overuse of corticosteroids, such as prednisone, or blood thinners. Other causes may be related to infections in the body or cancer and tumors.
Secondary adrenal insufficiency is a result of a lack of a hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH is supposed to be produced by the pituitary gland, which is found in the brain. If the pituitary gland is damaged, it won’t produce ACTH. It can get damaged by surgery, inflammation, or tumors. Although the adrenal glands aren’t damaged with this type of Addison’s disease, the lack of ACTH means a lack of glucocorticoids and androgens, which are typically produced by the adrenal glands.
Doctors can diagnose this disease by conducting a blood test, an ACTH stimulation test, an imaging test, or an insulin-induced hypoglycemia test. Measuring cortisol levels or ACTH levels in some of these tests are extremely important for diagnosing the type of Addison’s disease an individual might be suffering from.
Treatment for Addison’s disease
Medication is the main treatment for this disease. Hormone replacements are often the treatment doctors rely on since this disease is a result of a lack of hormones. It’s extremely important that individuals with this disease take their medicine on a daily basis. If an individual is known to be suffering an Addisonian crisis, medicine may be given intravenously and doctors may suggest that individuals increase their salt intake.
Missing one day of medication can be dangerous. Doctors may recommend that individuals with this disease wear a medical alert bracelet and carry a medical alert card. They may also recommend that individuals carry extra medicine and a glucocorticoid injection kit with them in case of emergencies. It may also be worth it for individuals to find ways to reduce or relieve stress on a daily basis since this disease is typically a result of individuals not being able to produce the hormone that regulates stress levels. It’s also extremely important for individuals to have a regular check-up with their doctors.
Getting SSDI for Addison’s disease
Since this disease has a high success rate for being treated by hormone replacements, it’s quite difficult to prove that someone with this disease needs Social Security disability benefits. This is especially true when it comes to individuals having to prove that they’ve been experiencing disabling symptoms for at least 12 months. However, the SSA does consider this disease to be a disability under the disability listing of endocrine disorders. This is because it’s a type of adrenal gland disorder that affects major parts of the body. Unfortunately, an individual still has to prove that their condition is so severe that they require financial assistance.
One of the most important pieces of documentation for this process is the individual’s medical records. Doctors treating individuals with this disease should have a detailed record of when they diagnosed the individual, the symptoms that individual was experiencing, and what the doctor has done to treat the individual. The medical record should include dates to demonstrate how long this condition has been affecting the individual. The medical record should also include any record of being admitted into the hospital due to this disease. The record should prove that the condition has been affecting the individual for at least 12 months in order for the SSA to move the application through the process. If the SSA feels as though the information is insufficient, they may require the individual to go through a physical examination from a doctor of their choosing. This will typically be an independent physician.
The SSA will also gather information about the individual’s work history. They will examine the individual’s previous positions, examine the physical and mental demands of the positions, determine whether or not the individual is able to return to a previous position that is less demanding than their current position, and determine whether or not the individual is qualified to work in a position that is less demanding than their current position (if they find that the individual cannot go back to a previous position). Since the SSA bases their decision on one’s ability to perform the job, it’s important for individuals with this disease to demonstrate that they can’t physically perform their duties due to a physical or mental limitation that is as a result of this disease.
How we can help
We understand that individuals living with this disease experience debilitating symptoms. We know that these symptoms can impact individual’s work life and often affect their financial situations. We also know that proving that this disease is a disability can be quite difficult. Fortunately, we’ve gone through this process multiple times and can help individuals apply for disability benefits. Getting the help of an experienced disability lawyer can often make this process easier since we know what’s required. It may seem like a simple task to just fill out some paperwork and send it in for approval. However, the reality is that it’s more complex than that. Most people often submit incomplete or inaccurate paperwork, which quickly leads to a denial of benefits. Fortunately, our experienced lawyers at Osterhout Berger Disability Law know exactly what it takes to fill out the application completely and accurately. Allow us to help you through this process. Schedule your free consultation today.