Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder that has no known cure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the condition affects an estimated 90,000 to 100,000 Americans, including many Illinois residents. Victims may experience chronic symptoms and serious health complications. Fortunately, Social Security Disability benefits may be available to people who cannot work due to the condition.
Wide-ranging health impacts
Victims of sickle cell disease have red blood cells that are shaped like crescents. These sickle cells are stiffer than healthy blood cells. The unusual shape and stiffness of these cells can cause them to get stuck in blood vessels, blocking blood flow. Sickle cells also have a significantly shorter lifespan than healthy blood cells. Together, these characteristics can give rise to various complications.
Blood vessel blockages due to sickle cells may prevent organs from receiving necessary nutrients. This can result in pain and damage to vital organs, such as the kidney and liver. In extreme cases, victims experience crises, which are severe episodes involving restricted blood flow or dramatic decreases in red blood cells. Potential complications include stroke, organ failure and severe infections.
Chronic anemia is another common effect of sickle cell disease. Since sickle cells die more quickly than healthy cells, the body cannot reproduce new cells quickly enough. This results in a shortage of red blood cells. Anemia can cause fatigue, weakness, dizziness, shortness of breath and susceptibility to infection. All of these effects can make working difficult for victims.
Sickle cell disease is a listed condition in Disability Evaluation Under Social Security, also known as the “Blue Book.” The Social Security Administration automatically considers the disease disabling if medical evidence supports the diagnosis and establishes one of the following symptoms:
- At least 3 thrombotic crises resulting in pain during the 5 months prior to evaluation
- At least 3 periods of extended hospitalization during the year before evaluation
- Persistent and severe anemia, with hematocrit levels less than 26 percent
The SSA can also evaluate sickle cell disease based on the effects the disease has on other systems. For example, stroke, lung damage and kidney failure are all disabling conditions included in the Blue Book. If sickle cell disease causes one of these complications, the SSA may find the individual disabled on the basis of the complication.
Victims of sickle cell disease may still receive benefits if the disease and its complications do not match impairment listings. The SSA can directly evaluate how symptoms, crises and other complications limit the victim’s ability to work. If the individual cannot reasonably perform work yielding more than $1,070 per month, the SSA grants benefits through a medical-vocational allowance.