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Applying for disability with Congestive Heart Failure, CHF

Basic requirements for disability claims

If you are applying for Social Security disability on the basis of chronic heart failure (this is the term SSA uses when they are speaking of congestive heart failure), you must meet two basic requirements.

1. You cannot be working and earning over the SGA monthly earnings limit.

2. You have to have a severe mental or physical condition that can be verified through medical evidence.

Filing for disability with Chronic or Congestive Heart failure

In order to establish that you have chronic heart failure you must have a medical history and physical examination that show characteristic symptoms such as pulmonary or systemic congestion or limited cardiac output. Signs of limited cardiac output may include shortness of breath, tiredness, chest discomfort, dizziness, or fainting. Signs of congestion might include liver enlargement, ascites, increased jugular venous distention or pressure, fluid retention and swelling in the legs and ankles, and rapid weight gain.

The two main causes of CHF are systolic dysfunction, which is due to the pump function of the heart failing, or due to diastolic dysfunction, which is caused by a stiff ventricle wall that is not relaxing properly. In the case of diastolic dysfunction the result is a low stroke volume. CHF is considered in the cardiac impairment listing as a single category whether due to cardiomegaly, congestive heart failure, atherosclerosis (narrowing of arteries), hypertension, rheumatic, congenital, or other heart disease.

Impairment listing 4.02 Chronic Heart Failure provides the criteria needed to meet or equal the severity requirements for Social Security disability.

A. You must have a medically documented presence of one of the following: Systolic failure with left end diastolic dimensions of 6.0 cm or an ejection fraction of 30% or less during a stable period not an acute heart incident. Or, diastolic failure with left ventricular posterior wall thickening of 2.5 cm or greater and an enlarged atrium of 4.5 or greater with a normal or elevated ejection fraction. AND

  1. Persistent symptoms that cause severe limitations to the ability to sustain or initiate activities of daily living (e.g. dressing, bathing, cooking, driving, walking, standing, etc.) in a patient for whom an exercise test would cause as significant risk; or

  2. Three or more individual episodes of acute congestive heart failure within a twelve consecutive month period, with evidence of evidence of fluid retention verified by clinical and imaging at the time of the episodes, that require extended physician intervention (e.g. hospitalization or emergency room stays of 12 hours or more, separated by periods of stable condition; or

  3. Inability to complete an exercise test at a workload equivalent to 5 METS or less due to: a. dyspnea, fatigue, palpitations, or chest discomfort; or b. three or more consecutive premature ventricular contractions (tachycardia), or increasing of ventricular ectopy with at least 6 premature contractions per minute; or c. decrease of 10 mm HG or more in systolic pressure below the baseline systolic blood pressure or the preceding systolic pressure measure during exercise due to left ventricular dysfunction, despite an increase in the workload; or d. signs attributable to inadequate cerebral perfusion, such as ataxic gain or mental confusion.
While this seems like a lot of technical jargon, Social Security disability examiners use the medical criteria listed above to determine the severity of your heart failure. In order to be approved for Social Security disability your disability claim must be supported by the medical evidence listed in 4.02 and your heart failure must cause significant limitation to your ability to perform your daily activities including your ability to perform work activity.

Social Security disability is more about your functional ability, or rather your residual functional ability (what you are able to do in spite of your disabling condition) than your specific medical condition. Therefore it is extremely important to have clear documentation of your limitations. This can be accomplished through medical records , of course, but also through Functional reports completed by your treating physician, activity of daily living questionnaires and third party questionnaires (generally completed by a third party meaning someone besides doctor or yourself).

More about the condition

Congestive heart failure (CHF), also known as congestive cardiac failure (CCF) or simply heart failure, happens when the heart is unable to pump a healthy flow of oxygen-rich blood throughout the rest of the body. Although the name implies that the heart has failed or stopped, this is not actually the case; the heart continues beating and there is no chest pain associated with congestive heart failure. Instead, the blood flowing out of the heart is simply slowed down.

Congestive heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalization in those over 65 and can happen for a myriad of reasons, from heart defects, infection in the valves or lungs, high blood pressure or thyroid disease to narrowed arteries, disease of the heart muscle or valve, chronic anemia, coronary artery disease or scar tissue left from a past heart attack. Whatever the initial cause, the heart muscle becomes damaged and blood flow slows.

The cause of congestive heart failure is due to either systolic dysfunction, which is due to the pump function of the heart failing, or due to diastolic dysfunction, which is caused by a stiff ventricle wall that is not relaxing properly. In the case of diastolic dysfunction the result is a low stroke volume.

Signs of congestive heart failure are dependent upon which side of the heart is affected and can range from a shortness of breath, tiredness and poor circulation to dizziness and weight gain caused by fluid retention and swelling in the legs and ankles. To clinically diagnose congestive heart failure an ultrasound may be used to determine the amount of blood that is being pumped with each heartbeat, an X-ray may be used to detect the size of the heart, an electrocardiogram may be used to determine abnormalities or blood tests may be performed to show infection.

If congestive heart failure is diagnosed, doctors will normally suggest rest, a healthy diet, weight loss and less sodium and water intake. Depending upon the cause of congestive heart failure, they may also prescribe various drugs such as beta blockers, diuretics, vasodilators, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors or digitalis. In some cases a valve may need replaced and if congestive heart failure is allowed to go unchecked and causes irreparable damage to the heart, it may result in a heart transplant.

  • What medical conditions will get you approved for disability?

  • What kind of Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?

  • Which conditions will social security recognize as a disability?

  • Tips for getting Social Security Disability or SSI benefits approved

  • SSDRC Homepage:

    Social Security Disability and SSI Resource Center

    The Most Basic questions about Getting Disability Benefits

    Social Security Disability SSI and whether or not you can work

    Common Mistakes to avoid after being denied for Disability

    Social Security Disability SSI Questions and Answers

    More Social Security Disability SSI Questions and Answers

    Common Questions about Social Security Disability and SSI

    Winning Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits

    The SSI Disability Benefits Program

    Social Security Disability SSI and Doctors - Yours and Theirs

    Social Security Disability and SSI Claim Reviews

    Social Security Disability SSI System and Benefits for Children

    Denials, Appeals, and Getting a Disability Lawyer or Representative

    What you should know about Social Security Disability and SSI Denials

    Questions about Disability Lawyers and Hiring a Disability Attorney

    Various Types of Benefits including SSI, Mental, and Child benefits

    Social Security and SSI based on Mental Disability

    Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits for Children

    Disability Benefits through Social Security

    Filing for Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits

    Social Security Disability SSI: Medical Evidence and Records

    Filing your claim for disability benefits

    Eligibility for receiving disability benefits

    Resources on this site

    Social Security Disability, SSI Terms and Definitions

    Previously answered questions regarding SSD and SSI

    The SSDRC Disability Blog

    For Individuals living in North Carolina

    Disability in North Carolina

    North Carolina Disability Lawyer

    Getting disability in North Carolina

    Related Body System Impairments:

    If you have had a heart attack will you qualify for Social Security disability?
    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
    How much will it cost to hire a disability attorney in Pennsylvania?
    Why does it take so long to get a decision on a disability case in Pennsylvania?

    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.

    Filing for disability - How to file for SSD or SSI and the Information that is needed by Social Security
    How to Apply for Disability - What medical conditions can you apply and qualify for?
    Applying for Disability - How long does it take to get Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?
    What happens if I file a disability application and it is denied by a disability examiner or Judge?
    How to Prove you are disabled and qualify to win disability benefits
    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
    Social Security Disability SSI - Eligibility Requirements and Qualifications Criteria