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Facts about Ankylosing Spondylitis and Filing for Disability

How to prove you are disabled
and win disability benefits

1) Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is an autoimmune disease that primarily affects the spine and the joint between the ilium of the pelvis and the sacrum, otherwise known as the sacroilium. AS is a chronic disease and can result in fusion of the spine.

2) Symptoms for AS come in stages. It can begin with stiffness in the hip area and lower back, and chronic pain the hips and lower back. Pain is usually worse in the mornings or after a period of rest and non-movement. As the condition progresses the pain usually gets worse and may progress to other parts of the body. Advanced stages may include fatigue, nausea, chest tightness, anemia, eye inflammation, weight loss, and inflamed bowels.

3) Young men aged 18-30 years old are affected by the disease three times more often than women, although anyone of any age may find themselves with AS.

4) Activities such as swimming, Pilates, yoga, stretching, tai chi, and even jogging, have been used to help lessen stiffness and pain from AS, although these activities should be approved by a rheumatologist since they could be damaging if not used correctly and at the appropriate times.

5) Researchers believe that genetic factors may take part in the cause of AS, and have found that nearly 90 percent of AS patients are HLA-B27 (Human Leukocyte Antigen B*27 ) positive. On the flipside, only a small portion of those with HLA-B27 develop AS, so this connection is still a mystery.

6) The most common risk of AS is that inflammation will direct the body to heal itself by growing new bone in between the vertebrae, causing fusion, ridgidity, and the potential to stiffen the rib cage, causing limited lung function and also affecting the heart. This can cause difficulty breathing and heart problems such as aortitis.

7) Physical therapy and exercise are very helpful in the treatment of AS, as are medications to reduce inflammation and pain associated with symptoms. Surgery may be used in extreme cases, to replace joints or correct deformities from curvatures, although administering anesthesia may be challenging due to AS side effects such as breathing and pulmonary issues.

Can you qualify for disability benefits with this condition?

Whether or not you qualify for disability and, as a result, are approved for disability benefits will depend entirely on the information obtained from your medical records. This includes whatever statements may have been obtained from your treating physician (a doctor who has a history of treating your condition and is, therefore, qualified to comment as to your condition and prognosis).

It will also depend on the information obtained from your vocational, or work, history if you are an adult, or academic records if you are a minor-age child. The important thing to keep in mind is that the social security administration does not award benefits based on simply having a condition, but, instead, will base an approval or denial on the extent to which a condition causes functional limitations. Functional limitations can be great enough to make work activity not possible (or, for a child, make it impossible to engage in age-appropriate activities).

Why are so many disability cases lost at the disability application and reconsideration appeal levels?

Speaking as a former Disability Claims Examiner, I can state that there are several reasons:

1) Social Security makes no attempt to obtain a statement from a claimant's treating physician. By contrast, at the hearing level, a claimant and his or her disability attorney will generally obtain and present this type of statement to a judge;

2) Prior to the hearing level, a claimant will not have the opportunity to explain how their condition limits them, nor will their attorney or representative have the opportunity to make a presentation based on the evidence of the case. At the hearing level, of course, this is exactly what happens. And a number of disability representatives will also take such steps even earlier, at the reconsideration appeal level;

3) Disability judges, unlike disability examiners who decides cases at the first two levels of the system, can make independent decisions without being overturned by immediate supervisors--which happens frequently.

Return to:  Social Security Disability Resource Center, or read answers to Questions

Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions

Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The Disability Decision Process and What gets taken into Consideration | Getting Denied for Disability Benefits | Questions about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | Social Security Disability Hearings | Social Security Medical Examinations | Social Security SSI Doctors | Social Security Disability Representation | Social Security Disability SSI Reviews