Facts about Syncope 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.

  • How to apply for disability and the information that Social Security needs

  • Who will qualify for disability and what qualifying is based on

  • Requirements for disability - Qualifications Criteria for SSD and SSI

  • How to Prove you are disabled and win your disability benefits

  • Facts about the condition

    1. Syncope is the medical term for what most people refer to as fainting. Fainting is a condition that involves loss of consciousness for a brief time, usually seconds or a few minutes at most.

    2. Fainting occurs due to lack of oxygen in the brain. Hypoxia, limited oxygen flow through the body, is a common cause of fainting. Hypoxia can be caused by improper lung function, lack of blood circulation, blockage of oxygen through the blood, or simply because someone stops breathing. Hypotension is another common cause of syncope. Hypotension is the state of low blood pressure, often occurring with shock but not necessarily because of it.

    3. Syncope may be caused by lack of food and water, exhaustion from physical activity, lack of sleep, hyperventilation, emotional distress, standing too long or standing up too quickly, and over-heating.

    4. Symptoms of fainting include a progression from feeling fine to feeling dizzy, clammy (cold sweat), seeing spots or slow loss of vision, ringing in the ears, and collapse.

    5. Syncope may be a chronic condition, or may only occur once or twice in a person's lifetime. Syncope may also occur due to particular chronic conditions, especially those associated with heart conditions, low blood pressure or blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain.

    6. Vasovagal syncope, a very common cause of syncope, occurs as a chronic condition. This is the body overreacting to certain triggers, including the sight of blood or emotional distress. It may also exaggerate the body's reaction to common fainting triggers, like standing too quickly or lack of food and water.

    7. Vasovagal occurs due to a reaction in the nervous system that regulates blood pressure and heart rate. A particular person's triggers cause heart rate to slow, blood pressure to drop, and results in fainting.

    8. Vasovagal is diagnosed by ruling out other, more serious, conditions that could cause fainting, particularly heart conditions. Vasovagal is usually harmless and does not require treatment.

    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.

    About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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