If you have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, you are probably asking yourself, “is IBS a disability?”
Irritable bowel syndrome, if severe enough, is considered a disabling condition. Patients with irritable bowel syndrome may be unable to work because of their disease and its related complications. Patients who find themselves unable to work because of their irritable bowel syndrome may qualify for long term disability (LTD) and/or Social Security Disability benefits. The insurance company and the Social Security Administration (SSA) will review the claim to see if they qualify to receive disability benefits.
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder that causes problems with the digestive system, including pain or discomfort in the abdomen and changes in one’s bowel movement patterns.
A relative of ulcerative colitis, IBS is an inflammatory bowel disease that affects millions of individuals, women more so than men. It is estimated that between 20% and 50% of all visits to the gastroenterologist involve irritable bowel syndrome.
Symptoms of IBS
The debilitating symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome include abdominal pain, cramping and bloating, alternating periods of diarrhea and constipation, and sometimes a significant amount of anxiety and stress. You should share all of your symptoms with your doctor so that they are documented in the medical evidence.
Causes of IBS
Some medical studies suggest that there may be a hormonal component to irritable bowel syndrome, which may result in changes of IBS symptoms – for better or worse – during pregnancy or menstruation. It has been estimated that approximately 80% of all irritable bowel syndrome sufferers have an overgrowth of bacteria in the intestines; treatment often involves the use of antibiotics to control bacterial growth.
Additionally, there is medical evidence to support that IBS episodes may be triggered by emotional factors such as stress, depression, anger, frustration, tenseness, or feeling overwhelmed. As such, counseling and medication therapy are often utilized in order to try and reduce the number of irritable bowel syndrome attacks. Most IBS sufferers do respond well to treatment; however, it can take many months or years, as well as experimentation with various types of treatment, to find relief.
Does IBS Qualify For Disability?
Individuals who are not able to control their irritable bowel syndrome symptoms usually have pretty significant restrictions in their activities of daily living. Although IBS is a commonly diagnosed condition, it can nonetheless be a severe impairment. Even if your IBS is not currently disabling, it could be in the future.
If you can prove that you suffer from IBS symptoms that are painful, disruptive, and distracting enough to keep you from working a full-time job, such as severe abdominal pain, you may qualify for Social Security Disability and/or long term disability insurance benefits.
Long Term Disability for IBS
To prove to the LTD insurance company that your IBS is disabling, your medical records need to show how your IBS symptoms are so severe that they interfere with your ability to work. For example, if your abdominal pain and cramps interfere with your ability to focus and work at an acceptable pace, the insurance company should take these limitations into account in evaluating your claim.
As another example, if your IBS is so severe that you must take frequent and unscheduled bathroom breaks – say three times an hour – then that would obviously interfere with your ability to work, even if each bathroom visit was as short as only five minutes. If you were away from your work station 15 minutes per hour, then your work production would be cut by at least 25%. Thus, if your IBS reduces your productivity by over 25%, the insurance company is likely to consider you disabled as you would not likely be able to hold a job.
The insurance company will look at your medical record for clues on how your condition impacts your ability to do work activity. If your doctor has provided an opinion as to how your IBS limits you, it will be particularly helpful for your claim. That’s because the insurance company will take this information and create a “residual functional capacity” (RFC) assessment for you, which identifies what you can and cannot be expected to do. For more information on how RFCs are used to decide disability claims, see our section on RFCs.
Social Security Disability for IBS
Although IBS is not currently included in the Social Security Administration’s Listing of Impairments, you can still receive Social Security Disability if you prove that you are unable to work a full-time job due to your symptoms. There is also a time requirement that must be satisfied. Your condition must last or be expected to last for 12 months or more to be eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits.
The medical evidence in your records needs to show not only that you suffer from IBS, but that you are unable to work due to the symptoms of IBS and the limitations your IBS symptoms impose on you. Abdominal pain and cramps may interfere with your ability to focus, or you may require an excessive number of breaks in order to accommodate frequent trips to the restroom. A residual functional capacity form is a valuable piece of medical evidence that should be submitted in every case, as it identifies what you can and cannot be expected to do. You can download a physical RFC form from our website, then take it to your next appointment with your gastroenterologist (or any other physician that treats your IBS).
Working with a Disability Attorney in Your IBS Disability Claim
Working with an experienced disability attorney will give you the best chance of getting the benefits you deserve for your irritable bowel syndrome. Even if you have been denied benefits, that does not mean your fight is over. Many people are denied benefits the first time they apply. You have the right to file an appeal and try to get more information that may help your case. Getting expert help is often the difference between being denied and being approved for benefits.
While the process can be daunting, your experienced disability attorney will be able to guide you through the process. They do not get paid until you win your case. You can seek help without worrying about upfront costs or unexpected bills.
The Ortiz Law Firm has successfully represented people in disability cases across the United States. If you would like to talk to an experienced disability lawyer about your irritable bowel syndrome and its impact on your ability to work, call us at (888) 321-8131. We would be happy to evaluate your case and discuss how to help you through the appeal process.