A malfunctioning thyroid gland, a gland in the neck that produces hormones that manage your body's weight and metabolism, can cause all sorts of medical problems. If your thyroid is not making enough of the thyroid hormone, you could suffer from a disorder called hypothyroidism. Symptoms of this disorder include fatigue, depression, dry skin, difficulty concentrating, body pain, increased weight, and swollen legs. Hypothyroidism is usually treated by taking a thyroid supplement.
An overactive thyroid gland can cause hyperthyroidism. You may notice nervousness, muscle weakness, a racing heart, tremors, irritability, and problems sleeping. Having too much of the thyroid hormone in your body may also lead to Graves' disease, which is a common type of hyperthyroidism. Symptoms of Graves' disease include enlarged or bulging eyes and swelling of the neck. Treatment for hyperthyroidism includes medications, the intake of radioactive iodine, and possibly surgery. Your doctor can test for thyroid disorders through laboratory testing.
You can also get thyroid cancer, which has symptoms of difficulty breathing, neck or throat pain, and/or hoarseness.
Receiving Disability Benefits for a Thyroid Disorder
You may be eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits or Social Security disability (SSDI/SSD) benefits if you have a thyroid disorder, it has or is expected to last at least a year, and you are not working above the substantial gainful activity level ($1,090 in 2015, or $1,820 for blind people), and you qualify for disability benefits in one of the following ways:
- Meeting the requirements of an SSA disability listing
- Submitting medical evidence that indicates you are unable to perform any work, or
- Meeting the requirements of a compassionate allowance condition.
Meeting a Disability Listing
When your disability application is received, the SSA will determine whether your medical evidence satisfies the requirements for any disorder found in the SSA's listing of impairments (the "Blue Book"). If it does, you'll automatically be approved for disability benefits.
Thyroid cancer is included as Listing 13.09. To meet this disability listing, you must have proof of one of the following types of cancer:
- Anaplastic thyroid cancer
- Thyroid cancer that has spread beyond the area of the lymph nodes even with radioactive iodine treatment, or
- Medullary thyroid cancer that has spread beyond the area of the lymph nodes.
Anaplastic and medullary thyroid cancers are rare forms of cancer. Your doctor would usually perform a needle biopsy or surgical biopsy to detect these cancers. To approve you for disability benefits under this listing, the SSA would need evidence of operative reports or pathology reports that would state the type, location, and duration of these cancers.
Graves' disease is not included as a separate disability listing, but it might cause other impairments that are covered by disability listings. If you have signs of arrhythmia (an irregular heart beat), you may qualify for a disability under Listing 4.05, Recurrent Arrhythmias. To meet this disability listing, you would need to show proof all of the following factors.
- Your heart condition cannot be related to reversible causes
- You must have repeated episodes of fainting or near syncope (you have altered consciousness and are not merely lightheaded) that do not respond to treatment, and
- These syncopes must be documented by an electrocardiograph (ECG) or other accepted testing.
There may be other medical conditions caused by Grave's disease that are covered in the Blue Book as well, such as unintentional and significant weight loss and cognitive limitations or anxiety. For more information, read more about medical conditions covered in the listing of impairments.
Compassionate Allowances and Thyroid Cancer
The Compassionate Allowance program was set up by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to quickly grant disability benefits to individuals who have certain severe conditions. Anaplastic thyroid cancer is one of the conditions identified as a compassionate allowance. This type of cancer spreads quickly and is difficult to control. Possible symptoms of anaplastic thyroid cancer include a lump in the neck, difficulty swallowing and breathing, neck pain, changes in your voice, and swollen lymph nodes located in the neck. To qualify for benefits through this program, you must send a biopsy pathology report to the SSA that shows the presence of anaplastic thyroid cancer.
Determining Your Residual Functional Capacity with a Thyroid Disorder
If your thyroid disorder is not severe enough to meet the requirements of a disability listing, you may still qualify for benefits. The SSA will use the medical evidence in your file to determine what your residual functional capacity (RFC) is. Your RFC is the most that you can do in a work setting. You might be classified as able to perform sedentary, light, or medium work.
Your RFC will also include any functional limitations that prevent you from being fully productive. For example, when your thyroid disorder is a type of hypothyroidism, you might suffer from depression or difficulty concentrating. Depression can affect your ability to interact with other people and report to work on a regular basis. Likewise, if you have difficulty concentrating, you might be unable to follow complex instructions. If you have these symptoms, your RFC might look like the following: able to perform light work, moderate limitations in working with the public and coworkers, and able to perform only simple work tasks. A RFC such as this would prevent you from performing most, but not all, jobs.
In addition, if you suffer from fatigue or muscle weakness, that might restrict you from walking or standing for long periods of time. These symptoms could result in an RFC that limits you to sedentary or less than sedentary work. If you can perform only less than sedentary work, then you would be found disabled.
If you are taking any medications, you will need to tell the SSA any side effects of that medication. These side effects will be included in your RFC. For instance, if the medication you take for an overactive thyroid makes you drowsy, then your RFC could state that you unable to perform tasks that require a production pace or that you would miss several days of work each month. These restrictions could lead to a finding of disability. It is helpful to receive an RFC medical opinion from your doctor that lists what type of work functions you can perform and whether you have any limitations.