By 2023, 12.1 million people in the United States will have atrial fibrillation, according to CDC estimates. And this irregular heartbeat condition contributes to about 158,000 deaths each year. Those statistics should give anyone with A-fib pause, or perhaps cause their heart to race.
For those unfamiliar with cardiac arrhythmia, A-fib is a condition where a person’s heart is pumping wildly out of sync. The rhythm may be too slow, too fast, disorganized, or just flat-out chaotic in some manner. And that heartbeat irregularity can wreak havoc on the human body presenting as a whole host of debilitating symptoms.
But would a person with A-fib qualify for Social Security disability benefits? Possibly, but it depends on how severe it is. Here’s what you need to know.
What Are the Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation?
When a person experiences A-fib, the normal beating of the two upper chambers of the heart (the atria) is irregular. As a result, blood doesn’t flow efficiently to the two lower heart chambers (the ventricles).
Predicated on the degree of A-fib, some people may not know they have the condition because they show no signs. Other people with A-fib may find themselves feeling the following symptoms:
- Extreme fatigue.
- Shortness of breath.
- Heart palpitations.
- Chest pain.
In some cases, while amid an episode, they may even pass out.
A-fib is actually the most common type of heart arrhythmia. However, that doesn’t mean it’s harmless. Individuals with atrial defibrillation have an increased chance of heart failure and a 5x higher risk of ischemic stroke. In fact, according to the CDC, A-fib actually causes about one in seven strokes.
Can a Person Still Work with A-Fib?
Living with A-fib can be stressful, but many people can manage the condition with proper medication and care. That also means that A-fib is not a condition that always stops someone from being able to work.
Upon initial diagnosis, however, some individuals find that they need time off for medical appointments and adjusting to new prescriptions. And when returning to work, they may require advice from their healthcare team about ways to manage that transition. High-stress jobs can exacerbate A-fib episodes, so taking breaks throughout the day may be necessary.
For individuals who operate machinery or have active jobs, they may need to adjust the tasks they normally do. In some cases, however, returning to their previous career may not be possible and may warrant looking into disability benefits.
Can I Receive Disability for My Atrial Fibrillation?
To be eligible for disability based on atrial defibrillation, the Social Security Administration (SSA) first looks at non-medical criteria.
Anyone who applies for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) will have to show a previous work history. Typically, that means working at least five out of the last 10 years and paying into the SSA system. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) does not require a show of work credits, but people who apply must have few resources or assets and very low income.
Also, remember that disability is for long-term conditions only, not short-term or partial disabilities. That means an applicant must not be able to participate in substantial gainful activity (SGA) for 12 months.
If someone meets the basic qualifications for SSDI/SSI, then the SSA will further evaluate their claim based on strict medical criteria.
What Medical Proof is Necessary to Get Disability for A-Fib?
The SSA uses its “Blue Book” Listing of Impairments to determine if an individual meets their definition of disability. Though there isn’t a separate “atrial fibrillation” listing, disability applicants with that condition should look at section 4.05 Recurrent arrhythmias. That is the criteria someone with debilitating A-fib will need to satisfy.
To qualify, your A-fib must first be “uncontrolled” — meaning it’s not the result of something you can easily fix, like electrolyte abnormalities. Secondly, you must experience fainting (syncope) or altered consciousness (near fainting), despite any treatment or medications you receive. Finally, you must show documentation supporting your diagnosis in at least three clinical tests within a 12-month period.
What does the SSA accept as medical proof? In addition to doctor’s notes, lab results, x-rays, and detailed medical records, the following tests will also support a claim:
- Electrocardiogram (EKG). An EKG is a recording of the electrical impulses of your heart.
- Holter monitor. A Holter monitor is a portable EKG device that a person wears for 24-48 hours.
- Cardiac event recorder. A cardiac event recorder is a portable device that allows an individual to record their heart’s activity when feeling symptoms.
- Stress test. Also known as an exercise test, an individual performs physical activity while a machine records cardiovascular system responses.
- Echocardiogram. An echocardiogram is an ultrasound that evaluates the function of the heart by taking pictures. If it follows a stress test, it’s called a stress echo.
What if I Don’t Meet the SSA Criteria?
For those who don’t meet the criteria set in the SSA’s “Blue Book,” there is one more option.
Because atrial fibrillation often occurs in older adults, it’s often brought on by other conditions. These might include:
It’s possible a person might qualify for disability through the listing for one of those ailments.
If not and they’re over 50, they might still qualify via the Medical Vocational Allowance (MVA).
When applying under the MVA heading, the SSA will still review all medical records. But they will look at it through the lens of how the applicant’s condition affects daily functioning and abilities. A doctor must fill out a long form detailing the patient’s impairment(s), related symptoms, and physical/mental limitations.
Then the SSA will determine what, if any, work an applicant may still do with their condition and treatment. This is what the SSA calls an individual’s Residual Functional Capacity (RFC).
If the SSA decides work will be too difficult for someone because of their diagnosis, treatment, or progression, then they’ll award benefits.
When to Seek Legal Help for an A-Fib Claim
Because atrial fibrillation isn’t a condition that automatically qualifies for SSDI/SSI benefits, the burden of proof falls to the applicant. Unless you’re very versed in the process, it can get a tad confusing. So, consulting with a skilled disability lawyer is a great idea when a claim isn’t necessarily straightforward.
Remember, stress can be a trigger for A-fib. So, why not remove some of that worry and get the legal help you need today.
We can connect you with expert claim help while you’re at home for free! Click the button below now to sign up for a free phone call during weekday business hours:
Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a multi-published NYC-based magazine and book writer whose work has appeared in a wide variety of publications ranging from Forbes to Cosmopolitan. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Maryland, College of Journalism. For more, visit: www.KDNeumann.com, Instagram @dancerscribe, and Twitter/X @KimberlyNeumann.