Getting Disability for High Blood Pressure

Depending on your medical history, you may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits for high blood pressure, or hypertension.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

High blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension, is when the force of blood in the arteries stays at an elevated level. High blood pressure is considered to be anything over 140/90. A long history of uncontrolled high blood pressure can damage your arteries or organs. This can lead to a greater risk of certain diseases, such as congestive heart failure, stroke, dementia, and kidney failure. The eyes and brain can also be damaged by uncontrolled hypertension. Treatment for high blood pressure usually involves taking medicines and making changes to your lifestyle.

Your Eligibility for Social Security Benefits With High Blood Pressure

Depending on your medical history, you may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability (SSDI/SSD) benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits under the Social Security Act. For Social Security to even consider your application for disability benefits, you must have been unable to work for at least a year, or longer, or be expected to be unable to work for a year or longer.

After you apply, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will request your medical records from your doctors. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will review your medical charts to see if your high blood pressure is currently under control and whether you have any significant organ damage or other complications as a result of your condition. Generally, the most important evidence you can present is your doctor's opinion concerning how your high blood pressure affects your ability to work.

High blood pressure can usually be controlled with the right medical treatment, so the SSA will really be looking for organ damage that affects your ability to work.

Meeting a Disability Listing Under the SSA Regulations

When the SSA receives your claim for disability benefits, the agency will want to first determine whether you meet a disability listing contained in its Listing of Impairments (the "Blue Book"). The Listing of Impairments has different sections of medical disorders and it states what medical evidence is necessary to prove disability for each disorder.

There is no longer a specific disability listing for high blood pressure. Which disability listings the SSA looks at to evaluate whether you are disabled depends on what damage your high blood pressure has caused.

Some patients who suffer from hypertension have arterial damage that affects the heart. One disability listing that covers cardiovascular problems due to high blood pressure is Listing 3.09, for Cor Pulmonale Secondary to Chronic Pulmonary Vascular Hypertension. This is the medical term for failure in the right side of your heart due to high blood pressure in the arteries leading to the lungs. To meet the requirements of Listing 3.09, you must show clinical evidence of cor pulmonale, such as an x-ray or ECG (electrocardiogram) that documents right-sided heart failure. You must also show evidence of one of the following factors:

  • A mean artery pressure in your lungs greater than 40 mm Hg or
  • Arterial hypoxemia (a lack of oxygen in the arteries) with certain values of oxygen pressure and carbon dioxide pressure as shown through pulmonary (lung) function testing.

If you have suffered damage to your vision due to high blood pressure, the SSA would evaluate your condition under the disability listing for low vision and blindness. If your hypertension has caused a stroke, you would be evaluated under the disability listing for central nervous system vascular accidents. To read about other related disability listings, see our section on specific medical disabilities.

Assessing Your Residual Functional Capacity

If you do not meet the requirements of a disability listing, you can still be found disabled if your residual functional capacity (RFC) shows that you are unable to perform any work. Your RFC is the most that you can do at work, while working a 40-hour work week. For example, the SSA will give you a sedentary work, light work, medium work, or heavy work RFC, which lays out how strenuous of a job you can be expected to due despite your medical condition. Your RFC will then help the SSA decide if there any jobs that you can do.

The SSA will determine your RFC level based on your medical evidence, your doctor's statements, any other opinions from medical professionals, statements from family and friends, and your own statements. The agency will also consider your ability to perform such work tasks as sitting, standing, walking, interacting with the public and coworkers, using your hands and arms, and following work instructions.

An RFC opinion provided by your doctor can be used as evidence indicating that you are disabled. Your doctor might state that you are unable to be in high stress work environments because it raises your blood pressure or that you are unable to stand and walk for long periods of time. The SSA will decide whether your doctor's opinion is supported by other evidence in your medical charts, such as laboratory tests. The agency will also consider whether you are taking your medications as prescribed and whether you are following all of your doctor's orders for treatment.

If your high blood pressure is causing severe complications in your heart and lungs, your RFC might be stated in these terms: limited to less than sedentary work, can lift no more than 10 pounds, and limited to simple and routine work. This type of RFC would typically mean that the SSA would find you disabled. Read more about how the RFC is used to in the disability determination.

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