Most people with aneurysms must avoid heavy lifting or emotional stressors, as both can increase the risk of rupture or dissection (splitting from the wall of the artery). Some aneurysms can be treated successfully with medication and, occasionally, by surgery. For those whose aneurysms are life-threatening, Social Security disability benefits may be available.
Types of Aneurysms
Aneurysms can occur any place there is an artery; however, the most common location is in the aorta (the primary artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body) or the brain. If they occur in areas other than the aorta or brain they are called peripheral aneurysms. Some common places for peripheral aneurysms to appear are behind the knee, near the groin, in the neck, and in the intestines.
Can I Get Approved for Disability Because of My Aneurysm?
If you meet the basic requirements for disability (discussed below), the Social Security Administration (SSA) will review your medical records to see whether your aneurysm meets the requirements of its medical listing for aneurysm of the aorta or major branches (which are usually thought to be the brachiocephalic trunk and the bilateral carotid, subclavian, renal, common iliac, and internal and external iliac arteries).
If your aneurysm doesn't meet the requirements exactly (say it's a dissected aneurysm of the femoral artery), you could "equal" the requirements of the listing if the characteristics of your aneurysm make it just as serious. If you can't meet or equal the aneurysm listing, you could meet the requirements of the central nervous system vascular accident listing if you've had a stroke.
Aortic Aneurysm Listing
If you suffer from an aneurysm of the aorta or its major branches (from any cause), you may be eligible for automatic approval under its listing if you meet the following requirements:
- your aneurysm has been identified by medical imaging (for example, CT scan or MRI), and
- dissection of the aneurysm can’t be controlled by any prescribed treatment.
The SSA will conclude that your aneurysm is not under control if you continue to have chest pain because the dissection worsens, your aneurysm gets bigger, or the aneurysm compresses one or more main branches of your aorta.
Aneurysms located in the brain can cause a stroke if they rupture. If you experience a stroke and, as a result, suffer from one of the following complications, you may be eligible for automatic approval of benefits:
- difficulty with speaking, writing, understanding what others have said, or remembering the names of familiar objects, or
- partial paralysis or uncontrollable movement of two extremities (arms or legs) that makes it difficult for you to walk or for you to use your hands.
If your stroke has damaged your vision or your ability to talk, you can be approved automatically for benefits if:
- with glasses the vision in your better eye is 20/200 or less
- you suffered a significant loss in your visual field
- with glasses the visual efficiency of your better eye is 20% or less, or
- you can’t speak and be understood by other people, even with an assistive device.
Because the listing requirements for stroke are complicated, you should review them with your doctor. (It helps if you bring our stroke listing form to your doctor.)
What If I Can’t Meet a Listing?
You may be able to still win your claim for disability even if you don’t meet one of Social Security's medical listings. The SSA is also required to look at the restrictions in your medical records to decide if you can still do your old job, or any other work.
To decide what work you can and can't do, the SSA must establish your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC is the most you can do on a regular and sustained basis. To determine your RFC, the SSA will use the medical evidence in your file to see how your symptoms affect your ability to do certain physical work-related activities. Some of these activities are:
- pulling, and
If the SSA determines that your aneurysm prevents you from doing even a sedentary (sit-down) job, you will be approved for benefits. However, if the SSA decides you can still do sedentary work, you will be denied under most situations, unless you are older and have no transferable skills. To learn more, read our article on medical-vocational allowances.
Here are some examples of disability claimants with aneurysms.
- The claimant filed for disability based on an aortic aneurysm, but the aneurysm did not meet the listing criteria. The claimant had worked as a secretary, which was primarily a sit-down job. The medical evidence in her file showed that the claimant could sit the majority of a workday and that she could stand for up to two hours a day as needed. The evidence also demonstrated that she could lift up to ten pounds occasionally, and was able to carry lightweight objects. Given the evidence in her file, the SSA concluded that she could still do a sit-down job, such as her prior secretarial position. As a result, she was denied benefits.
- The claimant filed for disability due to an aortic aneurysm, and it did not meet the listing requirements. The claimant's past work was as a warehouse worker, where he was required to routinely lift objects weighing more than 25 pounds. His medical records indicated that because of his aneurysm, he could no longer lift more than ten pounds, and that he should limit walking to no more than an hour a day. The claimant’s records also indicated that he should not be exposed to situations that triggered emotional responses because it could cause his aneurysm to enlarge. Because of the restrictions his aneurysm caused, the SSA concluded that he dis not have the RFC to do even a sit-down job, and he was approved for benefits.
What If I Have Other Impairments?
The SSA must look at all of your impairments when it considers your claim for disability. This means, for example, that if your aneurysm caused damaged to another organ (such as the heart or kidneys), you may be eligible for disability based on both the aneurysm and the organ that was affected. You may also be eligible for benefits if you have additional medical conditions unrelated to your aneurysm.
What Are the Basic Requirements for Disability?
To be eligible for disability, you cannot be working at the substantial gainful activity (SGA) level. For 2015, SGA is defined as earning $1,090 a month from work. Additionally, your illness must prevent you from working at the SGA level for at least 12 consecutive months.
For Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a need-based benefit for people who don’t have a qualifying work history, you must fall within certain income and asset limits.
For Social Security disability insurance (SSDI), you must have a qualifying work history with companies that have paid taxes to Social Security.
How Can I Find an Attorney?
If you have questions about how to apply for disability based on your aneurysm, or how to appeal a denial of benefits, it may be helpful to speak with an experienced disability attorney. To find an attorney in your area, visit our disability attorney locator.