What are Panic Attacks?
Panic attacks are sudden intense feelings of fear or anxiety caused by an imagined threat. They are not a response to actual danger, but the body reacts the same as if there was imminent danger. People experiencing panic attacks may feel like they have a heart attack or that they are going to die. Even though the threat may be imaginary, all the symptoms are genuine. Symptoms of panic attacks can include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Chills or hot flashes
- Shaking and trembling
- Nausea and cramping
- Feelings of impending doom or danger
Panic attacks are often caused by a period of intense stress, and many people experience only a few panic attacks in their lifetime. Their panic attacks, triggered by an event, disappear when the event is over. Other people experience reoccurring panic attacks, which can prevent them from experiencing their lives fully. These patients are said to have a panic disorder and may qualify for disability benefits.
Diagnosing Panic Attacks
Panic attacks are often diagnosed after ruling out other conditions. Because symptoms of a panic attack can look like other serious medical conditions, it is essential to rule out other conditions like heart attacks or adrenal issues. Once a physical cause is ruled out, the psychological reason is considered. Patients are often diagnosed by a mental health professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, mental health counselor, or social worker. Screening questionnaires are used to determine what conditions the patient may experience.
Treating Panic Attacks
Effective treatment of panic attacks depends on addressing both the symptoms and the cause. Most treatments are based on preventing panic attacks from developing. If the person has an untreated anxiety disorder, it is crucial to treat the anxiety to limit future panic attacks. Stress should be reduced, which can involve lifestyle changes. Avoiding stimulants, such as nicotine and caffeine, can also be helpful.
Treatment of panic attacks is often a combination of medications and talk therapy. Medications can limit the symptoms of the panic attack while talk therapy gives patients the coping skills needed to prevent the attack from occurring and dealing with the symptoms when it does. Medications such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) or benzodiazepines are commonly used to treat panic attacks. Identifying triggers, or things that can cause a psychological response, can prevent the feelings of panic and allow patients to learn how to live with those triggers. Some patients may not have specific triggers, but experience panic attacks that are seemingly random.
Untreated panic attacks can leave a person avoiding major life activities because of fear that an attack may occur. Isolation and loneliness are common. Self-medicating behaviors, such as alcohol abuse or addiction, can occur. This can lead to some patients self-harming or considering suicide as an option.
Disability Evaluation of Panic Attacks
Patients with panic attacks may be unable to work because of their conditions and their related complications. Patients who find themselves unable to work because of panic attacks may qualify for Long Term Disability (LTD) benefits. The long term disability insurance company will review the claim to see if the claimant qualifies under the conditions of that plan.
Definition of Disability
Most LTD plans consider a person disabled if they have a medical condition that causes them to 1) be unable to perform their work duties for the first two years of the policy and 2) be unable to complete the work duties of almost any occupation for the years following the initial 2-year period. Each LTD plan defines disability as slightly different, so look over your plan policy to see how your plan determines “disabled.”
Evaluating Disability for People with Panic Attacks
Many people that experience panic attacks may not necessarily qualify for disability benefits if the severity of their condition does not significantly limit their life activities. Others may not be so fortunate as the severity of their panic attacks is much more severe.
Patients seeking disability payments for their panic attacks will have to prove that they are impacted in a way that they cannot perform their old job (under an “own occupation” standard) or any job that they could be trained to do (under an “any occupation” standard).To qualify for disability benefits, the claimant must satisfy the disability insurance policy’s definition of the term “disabled” or “totally disabled”.
One of the best ways to support an application for LTD benefits is to have the attending physician fill out a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form that indicates how the claimant’s medical conditions and resulting symptoms and limitations affect and limit the claimant’s life activities.
Even if the person does not qualify for disability benefits for their panic attacks alone, they may be eligible under their other conditions or due to a combination of impairments. It is essential to consider and convey the entire health of the patient when applying for disability. If the panic attacks are caused by another psychological disorder, such as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, it is important to list the other disorders along with the panic attacks.
What the Insurance Company Needs from You and Your Medical Providers
You should tell the insurance company about any doctor that has treated you for your panic attacks. The insurance company will need to obtain all relevant medical records to get the full picture of your health. These records include office notes, clinical exams, and records of psychological treatment such as therapy visits. If for any reason they cannot get these records from your doctors, you should request them and provide them to the insurance company yourself.
You will need to provide proof of your diagnosis/diagnoses and your ongoing symptoms, as well as proof of how you are affected by your symptoms. Providing detailed documentation is key to a successful claim. Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessments determine how you are affected by the condition and what you can do despite your limitations. It is used to determine what jobs you may still be qualified to perform. Make sure that you are as honest as possible with your doctors so that they can complete an accurate RFC for you.
Working with a Disability Attorney
Working with an experienced disability attorney will give you the best chance of getting the benefits you deserve for your panic attacks. Even if you have been denied benefits, hope is not lost. 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 expert 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 one of our experienced disability lawyers about your panic attacks and their impact on your ability to work, call us at (888) 321-8131. We would be happy to evaluate your case and to discuss how to help you through the appeal process.