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Facts about Lymphedema and Filing for Disability

These selected pages answer some of the most basic, but also some of the most important, questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim for disability benefits.

Facts about the condition

1) Lymphedema may be either primary or secondary. Primary lymphedema is caused by issues with the development of lymph nodes and vessels, and is inherited. Secondary lymphedema is caused by damage to the lymph nodes or vessels, through infection, injury, surgery, cancer, or radiation treatments for cancer.

2) Lymphedema is characterized by abnormal swelling, usually seen in the arms and legs. Symptoms can include swelling in arms, legs, fingers, and toes, tightness, heaviness, discomfort and aching in arm or leg, as well as developing thick hard skin or experiencing restricted range of motion in leg or arm. Infections may also appear in affected area.

3) Cancer increases risk for lymphedema for a va riety of reasons. Cancer cells may block lymphatic vessels or obstruct lymph fluid flow. Chemotherapy is also known to cause inflammation and scarring that restricts lymph fluid flow.

4) It is suggested that breast cancer patients wear a low compression sleeve and gauntlet that is prescribed and properly fitted when flying in aircraft. Cancer surgery and cabin pressure due to flying have been linked to the onset of secondary lymphedema.

5) When lymphedema causes a severe case of thickening of the skin, and swelling that is so bad it causes deformity, it is called elephantiasis.

6) When left untreated or allowed to become very severe, lymphedema can cause cancer. This cancer is called Lymphangiosarcoma and is quite rare. This form of cancer begins in the the lymph vessels and lymph nodes, making it a soft tissue cancer.

7) There is no cure for lymphedema. Treatments include pneumatic compression, compression garments, wrapping bandages, exercises, and massage. Extreme cases may require surgery to remove tissue due to excessive swelling, but even surgery does not cure lymphedema.

Qualifying 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 and treatment notes that 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 also includes discharge summaries from hospital stays, reports of imaging studies (such as xrays, MRIs, and CT scans) and lab panels (i.e. bloodwork) as well as reports from physical therapy.

In many disability claims, it may also include the results of a report issued by an independent physician who examines you at the request of the Social Security Administration.

Qualifying for SSD or SSI benefits 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. In the case of adults, your work history information will allow a disability examiner (examiners make decisions at the initial claim and reconsideration appeal levels, but not at the hearing level where a judges decides the outcome of the case) to A) classify your past work, B) determine the physical and mental demands of your past work, C) decide if you can go back to a past job, and D) whether or not you have the ability to switch to some type of other work.

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?

There are several reasons but here are just two:

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

Note: it is not enough for a doctor to simply state that their patient is disabled. To satisy Social Security's requirements, the physician must list in what ways and to what extent the individual is functionally limited. For this reason, many representatives and attorneys request that the physician fill out and sign a specialized medical source statement that captures the correct information. Solid Supporting statements from physicians easily make the difference between winning or losing a disability case at the hearing level.

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. This is because at the initial levels of the disability system, a disability examiner decides the case without meeting the claimant. The examiner may contact the claimant to gather information on activities of daily living and with regard to medical treatment or past jobs, but usually nothing more. At the hearing level, however, presenting an argument for approval based on medical evidence that has been obtained and submitted is exactly what happens.

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

Related Body System Impairments:

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Angina and Filing for Disability
Arrhythmia and Filing for Disability
Brain Aneurysm and Filing for Disability
Cardiomyopathy and Filing for Disability
Cardiovascular Heart Stenosis and Filing for Disability
Congenital Heart Defects and Filing for Disability
Congestive Heart Failure and Filing for Disability
DVT Deep Venous Thrombosis and Filing for Disability
Heart Attack and Filing for Disability
Heart Murmur and Filing for Disability
High Cholesterol and Filing for Disability
Lymphedema and Filing for Disability
Mitral Valve Prolapse and Filing for Disability
Peripheral Arterial Disease and Filing for Disability
Triple Bypass Surgery and Filing for Disability
Thrombosis and Filing for Disability
Tachycardia and Filing for Disability
Wolff-Parkinson-White and Filing for Disability
Congestive Heart Failure, Social Security Disability, and Applying for Benefits
Heart Attack, Social Security Disability, and Applying for Benefits

Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions and in these subsections:

Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits | FAQ on Disability Claim Representation | Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration | Disability hearings before Judges | Medical exams for disability claims | Applying for Disability in various states | Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers | Applying for Disability in North Carolina | Recent articles and answers to questions about SSD and SSI

These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.

How to Apply for Disability - What medical conditions can you apply and qualify for?
How long does it take to be approved for SSI or Social Security disability?
What happens if I file a disability application and it is denied by a disability examiner or Judge?
How do you prove your disability case if you have a mental condition or impairment?
Social Security Disability Back pay and How Long it Takes to Qualify for it and receive it