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10 Health Conditions That May Lead to Disability


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One-in-three people will become disabled before they retire. Depending on the severity of the condition, the disability may be mild or life-changing. In cases where the disability is permanent or affects your daily life, benefits may be available under the Social Security Act.


According to disability attorney Rick L. Moore, those who qualify may be eligible for Social Security Disability Benefits, Supplemental Security Income Benefits, and/or medical insurance. A number of health issues can lead to disability, some of which may be surprising. Here are 10 common health conditions that can cause disability.

1. Arthritis

Arthritis is one of the leading causes of long-term disability – accounting for about a third of all cases. According to the CDC, 1 in 3 people say arthritis affects their ability to do their job. Other musculoskeletal problems can also cause disability, including bad backs and hips.

Many musculoskeletal conditions, fortunately, improve with time. To be considered disabled, you must be able to demonstrate that the condition has lasted or is expected to last a year or more.

2. Cardiovascular Disorders

Cardiovascular disorders, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, blood clots and heart failure, can also lead to disability. In fact, heart conditions are one of the leading causes of disabilities in the United States. According to the SSA, you may be considered disabled if you have:

  • A heart transplant
  • An aneurysm of the aorta or any other major branch of the heart
  • Chronic venous insufficiency
  • Chronic heart failure
  • Ischemic heart disease
  • Recurrent arrhythmia
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Symptomatic congenital heart disease

Heart disease can cause a number of symptoms that can make it difficult or impossible to work, including shortness of breath and angina (chest pain).

3. Cancer

Cancer in and of itself can be disabling, but treatments can also make it difficult to work. Cancer is one of the fastest-growing causes of disability claims. Treatments for cancer often involve chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or a combination of the three.

Chemotherapy can cause:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Infection
  • Anemia
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Mood changes

Radiation treatment can cause:

  • Fatigue
  • Skin reactions
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Mouth sores

Surgery can also mean that patients spend several weeks or months in recovery, which makes it challenging to work. In cases of advanced cancer, compassionate allowance (CA) may be granted. CA allows for automatic approval of disability benefits, and claimants start receiving benefits much faster than others.


4. Diabetes

Diabetes is quickly becoming a leading cause of disability along with obesity. Both have been linked to other serious health conditions, including heart disease. Considered a metabolic disorder, diabetes occurs when the pancreas has trouble producing insulin, or the body does not respond properly to insulin.

There is no cure for diabetes, and those with this condition must monitor their health closely.
Diabetes itself isn’t considered a disability, but those with this condition may qualify for benefits if they have also been diagnosed with:

  • Acidosis: An increase in the acidity of bodily fluid that occurs at least once every two months.
  • Neuropathy: Abnormality in the nervous system that affects that causes a “sustained disturbance” of movement in two extremities.
  • Diabetic Retinopathy: Occurs when there is damage to the blood vessels in the eye. Causes a significant loss of peripheral vision or visual acuity in the better of the two eyes.

5. Immune System Disorders

Diseases that affect the immune system can also lead to disability. Episodes of illness are more common and exposure to the workplace can significantly increase the risk of illness.
Immune system disorders that may lead to disability include:

  • HIV
  • Connective tissue disease
  • Inflammatory arthritis
  • Immune-deficiency disorders, such as AIDS
  • Polymyositis
  • Lupus
  • Systemic vasculitis
  • Systemic sclerosis
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Ankylosing Spondylitis
  • Psoriasis
  • Epstein-Barr Virus
  • Raynaud’s Disease

6. Nervous System Disorders

Disorders of the nervous system can be debilitating, as they affect the nerves or brain. A number of conditions that fall under this category can lead to disability, including:

MS is one of the leading causes of disability in young adults, and often appears between the ages of 20 and 40. In many cases, these disorders affect the individual’s ability to move and speak. Parkinson’s disease, for example, may prevent someone from working with their hands because this disorder causes:

  • Disturbance of fine motor skills
  • Disturbance of gait
  • Disturbance of gross motor skills
  • Rigidity
  • Tremors

7. Mental Disorders

Health conditions that affect a person’s mental state can also lead to disability. Even if the individual has no physical impairments, psychological trauma or illness may prevent him or her from working.
Mental disorders, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA), that may lead to disability include:

  • Autism
  • Affective disorders
  • Mental retardation
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Somatoform disorders
  • Organic mental disorders
  • Schizophrenia, psychotic and paranoia disorders
  • Substance addiction
  • Personality disorders

More than 5 million Americans with mental disorders were receiving disability benefits in 2012.

8. Skin Conditions

Some serious skin conditions can make it difficult or impossible to work. Conditions that may lead to disability include:

  • Dermatitis
  • Bullous diseases
  • Hidradenitis suppurativa
  • Ichthyosis
  • Genetic photosensitivity disorders
  • Burns
  • Chronic mucous membrane infections
  • Shingles
  • Cellulitis
  • Dermatomyositis

9. Respiratory Conditions

Respiratory illnesses make it difficult to breathe and may sometimes require people to refrain from strenuous activity. Respiratory-related conditions that may lead to disability include:

  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Asthma
  • Chronic pulmonary insufficiency
  • Pneumoconiosis
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Sleep apnea
  • Lung transplant
  • Other sleep-related breathing disorders
  • Mycobacterial

10. Pregnancy

Many people don’t consider pregnancy a disability, or a health condition for that matter. But it can be difficult to work at the latter stages of pregnancy, particularly if there are complications.


Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, women may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during pregnancy. However, this benefit may not be available to women who work at small businesses or are self-employed.

Some states will offer short-term disability for these women. Long-term disability is rare, but some women suffer from postpartum depression, which can become debilitating and cause great financial stress.

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