Fibromyalgia, Social Security Disability, and Applying for Benefits

Fibromyalgia, despite its prevalence, is not currently given a listing in the SSA bluebook listings. Despite that, cases for which fibromyalgia is a central allegation are routinely approved at all levels of the disability system, though perhaps more often at the disability hearing level (see winning at a disability hearing).

Can you be approved for disability based on fibro fog?

I once came across a forum conversation involving a disability claimant. This same individual commented that he had been diagnosed with cognitive memory disorder, or fibro fog, and that he had learned of another individual being approved due to fibro fog. All of this made me think of two questions that fibromyalgia patients filing for disability might possibly have.

1. Can you be approved for disability on the basis of fibro fog? Answer: an applicant for disability benefits can potentially be approved on the basis of any condition, and that can include fibromyalgia or cognitive memory disorder. This is simply because SSA is focused on A) a claimant's functional limitations that result from their medical condition and B) how their functional limitations impact and limit their ability to perform past work or "other work".

2. Is it more difficult to win a case for which the major allegation is fibromyalgia? It certainly can be. But let me say this. Any case for which the medical records are clear in asserting that a patient's functional limitations rule out the ability to engage in competitive employment within the national econonmy will be approved. However...most physician's notes are not focused with regard to illustrating functional limitations (known as RFC, or residual functional capacity).

In fact, many doctors make little to no reference to functionality in their treatment notes. Considering that this is the case, think how much more difficult it can be for FMS patients. For one thing, they have a disorder for which the causation is unclear. Secondly, many practicing physicians still retain a bias toward acknowleding fibromyalgia (not surprising--at one point in time the medical community disputed the existence of rheumatoid arthritis).

Fibromyalgia and sleep problems on disability applications

Fibromyalgia is a disorder that is imperfectly understood. Its most prevalent symptoms are excruciating joint and muscle pain, severe fatigue and extreme heightening of sensitivity to odors, noises, bright lights and touch. Other symptoms can include chest pain, anxiety, dizziness, sleep disturbances, mood changes, depression, numbness or tingling in the feet or hands and difficulty concentrating.


1. Can you get disability for Chronic fatigue and Fibromyalgia?
1. Can you qualify for Social Security Disability with fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is constantly being studied and to this date, doctors haven't been able to determine what causes it. Currently, one of the symptoms of fibromyalgia, insomnia, is being studied as an actual cause of fibromyalgia and not simply a symptom. As a disability examiner for SSA, I found it fairly common to see sleep problems and fibromylagia listed on disability applications together.

Patients with fibromyalgia usually have sleep disturbances during their most restful stage of sleep ' the delta sleep stage. These disturbances keep them from feeling well-rested and psychologically healthy, in addition to interrupting critical tissue repair during the night. Studies have shown that insomnia in the night leads to more pain during the day and even less restful sleep the next night; a vicious cycle for fibromyalgia sufferers that is hard to end without pain medication and sleeping pills.

Other studies have shown that when people without fibromyalgia were disrupted during their delta sleep stage, they developed symptoms such as achy join and muscle pain, fatigue and sensitivities often associated with fibromyalgia. This information has left researchers wondering if insomnia is an effect or an actual cause of the disorder.

More about the condition

Fibromyalgia, previously known as fibrositis and muscular rheumatism, is a chronic condition that is most noted by widespread pain all over the body, from muscles and tendons to ligaments, and extreme heightened sensitivity to light, odors, sound and touch, also known as allodynia. Other signs and symptoms of the disease are extreme fatigue, sleep disturbances, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches and facial pain, sometimes accompanied by chest pain, anxiety, dizziness, numbness in feet and hands, depression, mood changes and dry eyes, mouth and skin.

The cause of fibromyalgia is still highly unknown though many studies have linked the condition to Lyme Disease, genetics, stress, trauma, depression and abnormal dopamine or serotonin levels. While some researchers feel that sleep disturbance is symptom of fibromyalgia, others feel the sleep disturbance may be a cause. Most often with fibromyalgia sleep is regular, although rest is not achieved. Many people wake up day after day feeling as though they have not slept, which causes extreme fatigue and sensitivities.

Fibromyalgia is more prevalent in women than men, usually between the ages of 20 and 50, and is not contagious nor life threatening, and is not thought to be progressive. It does however go through stages of flare-ups and remission. Symptoms can vary greatly from day to day and are thought to be dependent upon the weather and environment. For instance, environmental stressors may exasperate symptoms, as can barometric pressure and humidity. Fibromyalgia has only been recognized as an illness and cause of disability since 1987 and controversy among researchers still exists surrounding the condition.

Because of ongoing controversy, diagnosis criteria are still under somewhat of a debate. 'The ACR 1990' a system of classification criteria developed by American College of Rheumatology is the most widely accepted criteria to diagnose the condition. The criteria in 'The ACR 1990' includes widespread pain that affects all four quadrants of the body for more than three months in addition to a certain level of pain at designated tender points on the body.

While some doctors claim to have cured fibromyalgia, it is not commonly thought of as 'curable', though there are many treatments that can reduce flare ups and keep the condition under control, from pain relievers, muscle relaxants and tricyclic antidepressants to anti-seizure drugs, dopamine agonists and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Many different treatments can target certain symptoms of the condition.

Fibromyalgia patients have also reported successfully using cannabis to treat symptoms. Exercise, a healthy diet, massage, physical therapy, acupuncture and a wide variety of other treatments have been proven beneficial in treating fibromyalgia.

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