Diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin to process glucose, which results in excessive amounts of glucose in the blood and urine, excessive thirst, and weight loss. In some cases, there is a progressive destruction of small blood vessels which leads to such complications as diabetic neuropathy, infections and gangrene of the limbs, or blindness.
Diabetes can often be controlled with medication and a proper diet. However, as a person ages, sometimes diabetes cannot be controlled. This is a problem as uncontrolled diabetes can cause damage to internal organs and other problems.
Symptoms and Complications of Adult Diabetes
Symptoms of both Type I Diabetes and Type II Diabetes include:
- frequent urination,
- unusual thirst and hunger, and
- extreme fatigue.
Individuals with type 2 diabetes also can experience numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, frequent infections, and cuts that are slow to heal.
Complications from diabetes may include:
- retinopathy (eye and vision problems)
- nephropathy (kidney disease)
- neuropathy (nerve damage) in feet or hands that disrupts your ability to stand, walk, or use your hands
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
- heart disease
- gastroparesis (a type of nerve damage that interferes with digestion)
- peripheral arterial disease (reduced blood flow to your limbs)
- cellulitis (skin infections), and
Qualifying for Disability Benefits with Diabetes
If you have uncontrolled diabetes and you have been unable to work for at least 12 months, or you expect that you will not be able to work for at least 12 months, then you may be eligible for Social Security disability (aka SSDI or SSD) benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. To qualify for disability benefits, you must be able to demonstrate that the damage caused by your diabetes severely limits what you can do.
One of the biggest reasons disability claims are denied is because the patient is “non-compliant” with the doctor’s orders. If your diabetes is uncontrolled because you failed to follow your doctor’s prescribed treatment, your claim for disability will likely be denied. For more information, see our article on failing to comply with treatment orders.
Meeting a Disability Listing for Diabetic Complications
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a Listing of Impairments (the “Blue Book”) that tells you how severe an illness must be to qualify for disability benefits. Diabetes is no longer included as a separate Listing, so a diabetes diagnosis will not automatically qualify you for disability benefits. However, if you have complications arising from your diabetes that fall under a Listing, you may be approved for benefits.
If your complications meet the requirements of a Listing of Impairments, you will automatically be approved for disability benefits before Social Security goes any further in the five step sequential evaluation process.
The following are some listings that may apply to patients with complications from diabetes (both hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia):
- Diabetic retinopathy (Listing 2.00). If you have blurred vision, poor visual acuity (between 20/100 and 20/200 in your better eye), or poor peripheral vision from surgery to correct your central vision, you may qualify for disability benefits under this listing. More about disability for vision loss.
- Diabetic nephropathy (Listing 6.06). If your kidneys are no longer filtering properly and you require daily dialysis or there is evidence of too much protein or creatine in your plasma, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits. More about disability for kidney disease.
- Diabetic peripheral neuropathies (Listing 11.14). Many patients with diabetes have some form of neuropathy or nerve damage in their hands, feet, arms, or legs. To qualify for benefits under this Listing, you must demonstrate that your neuropathy causes a significant impairment of your ability to walk, stand, or use your hands in a skilled way. More on disability for peripheral neuropathy.
- Cardiovascular problems. Diabetes can lead to coronary artery disease (listing 4.04), chronic heart failure (listing 4.02), peripheral vascular disease (listing 4.12), and an irregular heartbeat (listing 4.05). More about disability for heart problems.
- Poorly healing skin and bacterial infections (Listing 8.04). If you have ulcerating skin lesions that last for three months or longer despite treatment and such lesions make it difficult for you to walk or use your hands, you may qualify for disability benefits under the listing for chronic skin infections.
- Amputation of an extremity (Listing 1.05). If you’ve had a foot amputated due to nerve damage and poor circulation caused by diabetes, you may qualify for benefits if you have other limitations as well. More about disability for amputation.
- Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), DKA is an acute, potentially life-threatening complication of Diabetes Mellitis (DM) and usually requires hospital treatment to correct the acute complications of dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and insulin deficiency. If you have serious complications resulting from your treatment, SSA will evaluate your condition under the affected body system. For example, the SSA evaluates cardiac arrhythmias under the Cardiovascular System (Listing 4.00), intestinal necrosis under the Digestive System (Listing 5.00) and cerebral edema and seizures under Neurological (Listing 11.00). Recurrent episodes of DKA may result from mood or eating disorders, which SSA evaluates under Mental Disorders (Listing 12.00).
[Note: Because Social Security’s disability listings require that the above complications be severe to qualify for disability, Social Security finds that most people who apply for disability due to diabetes do not meet a listing.]