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Can you get Social Security Disability benefits for fibromyalgia?

People with health conditions that are not visibly apparent can have an uphill struggle for others to recognize their legitimate pain and/or limited abilities. Strangers they encounter, friends and even some family members may doubt the extent of a person's condition simply because the symptoms aren't readily identifiable to others.

Suffering from an invisible illness can be frustrating. Unlike a person who is blind and uses a cane or guide dog, or someone whose condition confines them to a wheelchair, not having any outward signs of a disability leads people to minimize a person's suffering — which can be considerable.

"But you don't look sick"

Those words are likely to be very familiar to Houston fibromyalgia (FM) sufferers. This chronic central nervous system disorder causes its sufferers to experience fatigue, pain, cognitive impairments and sleep disturbances.

One FM researcher referred to the condition as "the poster child for a ‘centralized' pain state." But the nature of the disease causes many aspects of it to remain elusive to the medical community. In fact, some doctors even doubt their patients' accounts of the symptoms and adverse effects they suffer.

A challenging diagnosis

New research has led to improved diagnostic techniques that can better substantiate a fibromyalgia diagnosis. Some FM symptoms are difficult to quantify, however. Getting the required medical documentation that could substantiate a diagnosis of fibromyalgia for purposes of obtaining Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits can be challenging.

This is because, in part, FM is not a fatal diagnosis. Neither is it necessarily a progressive disease, although it is not presently curable. In fact, symptoms can wax and wane intermittently, and improvement is indeed possible. Yet, the disease can also return unexpectedly with a vengeance and lay sufferers low again for months or even years.

FM patients can have symptoms triggered by many disparate activities and conditions, including:

  • Strong emotions
  • Inactivity
  • Excessive activity
  • Poor sleep
  • Trauma
  • Changes in the weather
  • Repetitive motions
  • Stress

All of this means that FM can be quite a difficult condition for patients to manage successfully.

Medical documentation is key

As with any condition that leads to SSD benefits, patients must substantiate their diagnoses with thorough chart notes from their physicians. It takes time to assemble a credible case for disability based on a FM diagnosis. Therefore, patients must be certain that they are very clear in their verbal (and other) interactions with their health care providers.

Even answering a seemingly casual query of, "How are you doing today?" with, "Fine," can undermine a potential case for SSD benefits if the doctor or nurse enters this response in the patient's chart.

If you are seeking SSD benefits for fibromyalgia, it may be helpful to investigate all the legal resources that are available to you.

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