When someone has scleroderma, they might have symptoms that can make it more difficult or uncomfortable to do certain types of work. And when scleroderma goes untreated for a long time, the disease can even become life-threatening. Fortunately, for some people with scleroderma, there might be a way to discontinue working to focus on getting better. People with this condition should learn about their options for paying their bills if they can’t work because of their scleroderma. Disability benefits through the Social Security Administration can help a lot of people with their finances during this difficult time.
What Is Scleroderma?
Scleroderma refers to a category of rare diseases that involve the hardening of connective tissues, skin, and organs. People with this condition will experience skin that feels tight, and there are some people who will only have the skin symptoms. But there are also some people who will begin to experience symptoms in other parts of the body, including the digestive tract, blood vessels, and other internal organs.
Scleroderma is more likely to affect women than men, and it’s most likely to have its onset in people between the ages of 30 and 50. This condition is caused by an overproduction of collagen, which causes the skin to become tight because collagen is a fibrous material. The exact reasons that some people have an excess production of collagen aren’t completely known, but the immune system appears to play a role. In fact, more than likely, a combination of the immune system, the environment, and genetics is what likely causes scleroderma.
One of the reasons that doctors and researchers suspect that scleroderma is an autoimmune disease is that about 15% to 20% of people with scleroderma also have one or more other autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Additionally, it’s suspected that genetics plays a role in who gets scleroderma because this condition is more likely to run in families, and Choctaw Native Americans are more likely to develop the kind of scleroderma that affects the internal organs than the rest of the U.S. population. Finally, exposure to certain environmental factors, such as drugs, viruses, or medications might also trigger scleroderma.
Symptoms of Scleroderma
The most common place that people first notice symptoms of scleroderma is in the skin. This skin symptom appears as patches of tightened or hardened skin that are usually in the shape of ovals or straight lines that most often appear on the trunk or limbs. Oftentimes, these patches have a shiny appearance because the skin is so tight, and it’s common for people to have difficulties moving that part of the body without pain from stretching skin.
People with scleroderma also experience Raynaud’s disease, which is when the blood vessels in the fingers and toes contract, especially in response to cold and stress. Fingers and toes are likely to turn blue and numb, and the person will also likely experience pain, similar to how a person without the condition would experience pain if they were outside in extremely cold temperatures without any protection for their fingers.
Some people with scleroderma will also experience problems within the digestive tract. For instance, if the esophagus is affected by scleroderma, then the person will most likely experience that as heartburn. On the other hand, if the person’s intestines are affected, it’s more likely that they’ll experience it as diarrhea, constipation, bloating, or cramps. Some people can also have difficulties digesting all of the nutrients.
Some people’s hearts, lungs, or kidneys are affected, which can lead to life-threatening problems as the organs have difficulties functioning because of the rigidity of the tissues.
Treatment for Scleroderma
There isn’t a treatment for scleroderma, but there are some medications and therapies that can lessen the effects of the condition. Medication is one of the most common types of treatment. For instance, some types of steroid creams can slow the progression of rigidity in the skin, and they might slow the development of joint pains. Blood pressure medications are used to dilate blood vessels, and some drugs can be taken to suppress the immune system to try to slow the rate at which the body makes collagen. Medications to help with digestive issues are often used, and some people will prevent infections by getting influenza and cold vaccines to lessen the likelihood that they’ll have problems with their lungs. Finally, some people will turn to over-the-counter and prescribed pain relievers.
Some types of therapies can also be used to manage pain, increase mobility and flexibility, and help a person maintain independence. Physical and occupational therapists can help some people increase their strength and flexibility and do some activities in modified ways.
There are some people who will have extreme complications with their symptoms, and surgery might be used as a last resort. For instance, people who have problems with the capillaries in the fingers and toes might need to have them amputated. And people whose lungs are affected by the disease might need a lung transplant after their lungs have been significantly damaged by the condition.
Disability Benefits for Scleroderma
For some people, scleroderma can significantly interrupt their life or even lead to death, so people with severe symptoms might not be able to work. Since scleroderma is a condition that can’t be cured, there isn’t a need to show that the condition itself will last for more than 12 months, but there is a need to show that the symptoms are severe enough for more than 12 months that they make it difficult to impossible to work. There is a certain set of criteria that the applicant must make in order to qualify for disability benefits with the Social Security Administration.
Scleroderma is listed as an autoimmune disorder in the Blue Book, which is the manual that’s used in determining who is eligible for disability benefits. The applicant must either have a single body part that’s severely affected by the disease or two symptoms that are severe and meet the SSA guidelines.
Another option is to qualify under the medical-vocational allowance by taking the residual-functional capacity test. This test is designed to assess the applicant’s ability to do any of the jobs that they’ve done in the past. The applicant will need to work with their doctor to compile a list of activities that they can no longer do. Then, the doctor will send the list to the Social Security Administration, which will compare the list of limitations against all of the jobs that the person has done in the past. Any job that requires that they’re able to do an activity that’s on their list of limitations will be eliminated as a potential job. If all jobs are eliminated from the applicant’s list, then they’re likely to receive disability benefits.
How We Can Help
There are several ways in which the team at Osterhout Berger Disability Law can help you receive the benefit you deserve. We help individuals who need to…
- Apply for Social Security Benefits and want to ensure everything is done right the first time
- Appeal a denial of Social Security Disability Benefits
- Appeal an existing denial of Long Term Disability (LTD) Benefits
If you are facing one of these situations due to Scleroderma, please do not hesitate in reaching out. Our team of experienced attorneys are here to help, and your consultation is free.