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Facts about Peripheral Neuropathy 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. Peripheral neuropathy refers to nerve damage in the peripheral nervous system, which means all nerves that are not in the spinal cord or brain. Most often this affects the feet, legs, hands and arms that causes sensations of numbness, tingling and pain. This damage may be due to nerve disease or side effects of other illnesses.

2. Peripheral neuropathy is often caused by diabetes, particularly in cases where there is damage to multiple nerves. Around half of all diabetics will develop neuropathy.

3. Infections like Lyme disease, shingles and hepatitis C may lead to nerve damage. Other causes include nerve trauma from an accident, injury or repetitive motions; vitamin deficiencies, particularly B vitamins, vitamin E and niacin; alcoholism, which generally leads to vitamin deficiency; poison exposure, such as to metals and medications like chemotherapy; tumors that press on nerves; inherited nerve disorders; and autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

4. Even spending time on crutches or with a broken limb in a cast can lead to peripheral neuropathy.

5. Peripheral nerves are responsible for sensory feelings like heat, pain and touch, as well as muscle movement, and automatic functions like blood pressure, heart beat, digestion and bladder function.

6. Peripheral neuropathy begins gradually and only gets worse without treatment. Usually symptoms start in the feet and hands and move upwards to the legs and arms. These symptoms include tingling, numbness, weakness, and heightened sensitivity.

7. Eventually symptoms can become much worse, including burning or sharp pain, loss of coordination and muscle control, and bowel and bladder problems.

8. Prevention of peripheral neuropathy includes carefully managing any condition, such as those listed above in numbers 1 & 2, that puts you at risk. Everyone, with or without an underlying medical condition, can prevent nerve damage by eating a well-rounded and healthy diet and exercising regularly. In addition, try to avoid repetitive motion, cramped positions, toxic chemicals and excessive exposure or consumption of tobacco and alcohol.

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:

Addison's disease and Filing for Disability
Peripheral Neuropathy and Filing for Disability
Peripheral Neuropathy, Social Security Disability, and Applying for Benefits
Cushing's Syndrome and Filing for Disability
Gastric Bypass and Filing for Disability
Hypothyroidism and Filing for Disability
Hyperthyroidism and Filing for Disability
Inflammatory bowel disease and Filing for Disability
Irritable bowel syndrome and Filing for Disability
Morbid Obesity and Filing for Disability
Pancreatitis and Filing for Disability
POS, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and Filing for Disability
Type 2 Diabetes and Filing for Disability
Diabetes, 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