Understanding Liver Disease and Social Security Disability Benefits

Understanding Liver Disease and Social Security Disability Benefits (2)

Liver disease is a broad term that encompasses a variety of conditions affecting the liver, including non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), hepatitis, cirrhosis, and more. These conditions can significantly impact a person’s quality of life and ability to work, making them potentially eligible for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits.

Liver Disease Conditions

Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH) is a type of fatty liver disease that can lead to cirrhosis if left untreated. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, often caused by a viral infection. Cirrhosis is a late stage of scarring (fibrosis) of the liver caused by many forms of liver diseases and conditions, such as hepatitis and chronic alcoholism.

Other conditions associated with liver disease include ascites (fluid buildup in the abdomen), hydrothorax (fluid in the chest), paracentesis and thoracocentesis (procedures to remove fluid), hepatorenal syndrome (kidney failure in conjunction with liver disease), oliguria (low urine output), sodium retention, and hepatopulmonary syndrome (a lung complication of liver disease).

Hepatic encephalopathy is a decline in brain function that occurs as a result of severe liver disease. Asterixis is a tremor of the hand when the wrist is extended, sometimes seen in patients with hepatic encephalopathy. Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), cholestasis (reduced or blocked bile flow), portal hypertension (high blood pressure in the liver’s portal vein), liver enlargement, and liver failure are also associated with liver disease.

Stages of Liver Disease and Treatment Options

Liver disease progresses in several stages:

  1. Inflammation: This is the initial stage where the liver becomes enlarged or inflamed. Many people with liver inflammation don’t experience symptomsIf the inflammation continues, permanent liver damage can occur.
  2. Fibrosis: This happens when an inflamed liver begins to develop scars. The scar tissue that’s generated in this stage takes the place of healthy liver tissue, but it can’t perform the same functions. This can start to affect your liver’s ability to function optimally. Liver fibrosis can be hard to detect because symptoms aren’t often present.
  3. Cirrhosis: In cirrhosis, severe liver scarring has occurred, leading to a buildup of scar tissue. Because there isn’t as much healthy liver tissue, it becomes very difficult for your liver to function properly. While symptoms may not have been present in earlier stages, you may begin to experience symptoms of liver disease.
  4. End-Stage Liver Disease (ESLD): ESLD is an umbrella term that can be used to describe conditions such as decompensated cirrhosis, or advanced cirrhosis stage 4 hepatitis C chronic liver failure. At this stage, liver function has deteriorated dramatically. ESLD is associated with complications such as ascites (a type of abdominal swelling) and hepatic encephalopathy (reduced brain function). The only treatment that can reverse ESLD is a liver transplant.
  5. Liver Cancer: Liver cancer is cancer that begins in the cells of your liver. While several types of cancer can form in the liver, the most common type of liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma, or HCC, which begins in the main type of liver cells (hepatocytes).

Each stage has a cumulative effect on your liver’s ability to function properly. Early diagnosis and treatment can often prevent progression to more severe stages

If you suspect you have liver disease, here are some steps you should take:

  1. Seek Medical Attention: If you’re experiencing symptoms of liver disease such as jaundice, abdominal pain, swelling in legs, dark urine color, nausea, and vomiting, seek medical attention immediately.
  2. Undergo Diagnostic Tests: Diagnosis involves blood tests followed by imaging tests. Liver function tests, ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, and liver biopsy are some of the diagnostic procedures that can help identify the cause and severity of the condition.
  3. Lifestyle Changes: Some liver problems can be treated with lifestyle changes. These might include losing weight, not drinking alcohol, drinking more water, avoiding fatty foods, consuming enough protein, watching your cholesterol, and exercising.
  4. Follow Treatment Plan: Treatment for liver disease depends on the diagnosis. It could involve medications, surgery, or in severe cases, a liver transplant.

Remember, early detection and proper management are crucial for liver health. Always consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

Social Security Disability Benefits for Liver Disease

If you have been diagnosed with liver disease and it has prevented you from working, you may be eligible for SSD benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates liver disease under its disability listing for chronic liver disease. To be eligible, you must meet certain criteria:

  1. Medical Condition: The SSA considers cirrhosis a medical disability if it meets the following criteria:
    • It’s chronic, meaning it persists for over 6 months.
    • You have documentation of your condition and its treatment history, including medical and laboratory findings such as liver function tests, liver MRIs, abdominal CT scans, abdominal X-rays, abdominal ultrasounds.
    • Your specific lab results and treatment response meet the criteria set forth by the SSA.
  2. Work Requirements: In addition to the criteria for a medical disability, you must also meet other requirements. For example, you must not be able to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA). The SSA defines SGA as an activity that involves performing significant physical and mental activities and is normally performed for pay or profit.
  3. SSDI and SSI Requirements: SSDI and SSI programs have separate lists of requirements you must meet. The SSDI program is designed for people (and some of their family members) who have worked long enough, recently enough, and paid Social Security taxes on their earnings. The SSI program, on the other hand, is designed for adults and children with a disability whose income and financial resources fall below specific financial limits.

The Role of a Social Security Disability Attorney

Navigating the SSD benefits process can be complex and challenging, especially when dealing with a serious health condition like liver disease.  Hiring a Social Security Disability attorney can be beneficial for several reasons:

  1. Understanding of the System: Social Security Disability law can be complex and difficult to navigate. An experienced attorney understands the system and can guide you through the process.
  2. Gathering Medical Evidence: A crucial part of a disability claim is gathering comprehensive medical evidence. An attorney can help ensure that your medical records and other evidence meet the Social Security Administration’s requirements.
  3. Representation at Hearings: If your claim is denied and you need to appeal, having an attorney to represent you at your hearing can be invaluable. They can prepare you for the questions you’ll be asked and make sure your case is presented effectively.
  4. No Upfront Costs: Most Social Security Disability attorneys work on a contingency basis, meaning they only get paid if you win your case. The fee is typically a percentage of the backpay you’re awarded.
  5. Maximizing Your Benefits: An attorney can also help ensure that you’re getting the maximum benefits you’re entitled to.

However, whether or not to hire an attorney is a personal decision and depends on your individual circumstances. It’s important to do your research, speak with potential attorneys, and make the decision that feels right for you. Remember, it’s your right to have legal representation in the Social Security Disability process.

Finding a Reliable Attorney

When seeking a Social Security Disability attorney, look for someone who specializes in SSD law, has a strong track record, and is responsive to your needs. Ask for recommendations, read reviews, and schedule consultations to find the attorney who is the right fit for you.

Remember, liver disease is a serious condition that can significantly impact your ability to work and your quality of life. If you’re struggling with liver disease and are unable to work, consider exploring your options for SSD benefits with the help of a knowledgeable attorney.

Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice. For personalized guidance, please consult us at 504-588-9123.

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