Patients with peripheral neuropathy may be unable to work because of their disease and its related complications. Patients who find themselves unable to work because of their peripheral neuropathy may qualify for long term disability (LTD) benefits. The insurance company will review their claim to see if they qualify under the conditions of that plan.
What is Peripheral Neuropathy?
The peripheral nervous system includes the nerves and nerve pathways that are outside the brain and spinal cord. Peripheral nerves are the nerves that carry messages to and from the spinal cord and brain from the remainder of the body. Peripheral neuropathy occurs when there is damage to these nerves.
Peripheral neuropathy can develop suddenly or over time, and symptoms vary in severity from person to person. Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include tremors, paralysis, partial paralysis, and/or involuntary movement in two or more extremities that makes it difficult to walk or use your hands.
Disability Benefits for Peripheral Neuropathy
Can you qualify for long term disability on the basis of peripheral neuropathy? When it is extremely limiting then the answer is: yes.
Peripheral neuropathy claims are approved because of symptoms and limitations caused by the neuropathy (see below). The long term disability insurance company will examine a claimant’s medical history and work history and may conclude that, based on the claimant’s functional limitations, the claimant doesn’t possess the ability to return to their past work (and can’t transition to less demanding work).
Long term disability insurance companies may recognize peripheral neuropathy and diabetic neuropathy as disabling medical conditions when the neuropathy severely affects movement.
Symptoms and Limitations of Peripheral Neuropathy
An individual’s symptoms from peripheral neuropathy depend upon the affected nerves (autonomic, motor, or sensory) and where they are located within the body. Abnormal blood pressure or heart rate, incontinence, and sexual dysfunction are symptoms of autonomic nerve damage (which affects involuntary movement). Motor nerve damage affects voluntary movement, often resulting in cramping, spasms, muscle fatigue/weakness, loss of coordination, and loss of balance. Sensory nerve damage can produce numbness, tingling, burning, reduced sensation in the hands and feet, sensitivity to touch, and/or pain. Neuropathy due to diabetes mellitus affects all peripheral nerves. Diabetic neuropathy symptoms include numbness and tingling of the arms and legs, loss of sensation, muscle weakness, burning or electric pain sensations, and a variety of other symptoms that can affect nearly all other areas of the body.
Treatment of the underlying cause will reduce or eliminate peripheral neuropathy symptoms much of the time. Direct treatment options for reducing pain include prescription medications that target nerve cells, injection therapy that injects a nerve blocking substance into the area surrounding the affected nerves, vitamin therapy to treat nutritional neuropathy, and physical therapy or acupuncture to ease pressure or swelling and reduce pain. Surgery may be another option to treat some causes of neuropathy, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Limitations caused by peripheral neuropathy include a reduced ability to stand or walk and difficulty controlling muscle movements. In addition, because of the loss of sensation, many individuals who suffer from severe peripheral neuropathy injure their arms, legs, hands, or feet without knowing it. This can lead to infections and perhaps even amputations. Chronic pain is also an issue for many people with peripheral neuropathy, and this can have a dramatic impact on their ability to work.
To make matters worse, peripheral neuropathy may impact one’s balance, coordination, muscle strength, muscle control, ability to walk, or ability to stand effectively. For those who suffer significant limitations in their ability to perform daily activities, long term disability insurance companies are more likely to find these individuals very limited in their ability to work.
Causes of Peripheral Neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy can be generally categorized by (1) the type of nerve that has been damaged, (2) the location of nerve damage in the body, or (3) the disease process that causes it. Peripheral neuropathy can be caused by diabetes mellitus. Called diabetic neuropathy, this is one of the most common causes of peripheral neuropathy.
Peripheral neuropathy can also be caused by:
- Other metabolic disorders;
- Herpes zoster;
- Nutritional deficiencies;
- Cancer (directly or indirectly as a side effect of chemotherapy or radiation);
- Autoimmune disorders;
- Nerve compression, entrapment, or laceration;
- Liver failure;
- Vitamin deficiencies; and/or
- Genetic disorders.
In some cases, the cause cannot be identified. No matter the cause, peripheral neuropathy can be a very debilitating condition that can affect one’s daily functioning. It can severely limit one’s ability to walk, stand, lift, or carry items.
I. Types of Nerves
There are three main types of peripheral nerves:
(1) motor nerves that control voluntary movement,
(2) sensory nerves that control what one senses (for example, pain, touch and temperature), and
(3) autonomic nerves that control involuntary movement (for example, breathing).
II. Location of Peripheral Neuropathy
Mononeuropathy is nerve damage that occurs in one specific area of the body. Polyneuropathy is nerve damage that occurs in many areas. Symmetric neuropathy describes the disorder when it occurs in the same areas of the both on both the right and left sides of the body.
III. Disease Process
Diabetic neuropathy is caused by diabetes.
IV. Unidentified Cause
When a cause for peripheral neuropathy cannot be identified, the condition is called idiopathic neuropathy.
Damage Caused by Peripheral Neuropathy
If left untreated, peripheral neuropathy may cause permanent loss of nerve function, tissue damage, and muscle atrophy.
Diagnosis of Peripheral Neuropathy
A doctor will likely perform both a physical and neurological examination to diagnose peripheral neuropathy. Diagnostic tests may include nerve conduction velocity studies (NCV), electromyography (EMG), and an electroencephalography (EEG). These types of tests measure the speed at which your nerve impulses travel and measure electrical response and activity. Your treating physician may also order a spinal tap, blood and urine tests, and perhaps imaging procedures such as a CAT scan or MRI scan. These types of tests may determine if there is an underlying cause for the condition, such as diabetes or meningitis.
The advancement of peripheral neuropathy has a better chance of being slowed or reversed when diagnosed and treated early in the development of the condition. In other words, the longer the condition goes untreated, the more likely it is to result in permanent nerve damage.
Filing for Long Term Disability with a Diagnosis of Peripheral Neuropathy
The long term disability insurance company will consider both your neuropathy and any underlying causes in evaluating your application for LTD benefits. The adjuster assigned to evaluate your claim will base his or her evaluation on your residual functional capacity – that is, how well you can function even with a disabling condition.
Types of Work-Related Impairments: Your neuropathy may be characterized by tremor, paralysis, ataxia, or even involuntary movement in at least two of your arms and legs which causes continued inability to perform fine and gross motor movements, and walking and standing limitations.
In short, you will be approved for long term disability benefits only if you can provide medical documentation to evidence a diagnosis of Neuropathy and supporting documentation that your neuropathy is so severe as to restrict your activities and to prevent you from engaging in sustaining work activity.
Working with an experienced disability attorney will give you the best chance of getting the benefits you deserve for your peripheral neuropathy. 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 peripheral neuropathy and its 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.