Qualifying Conditions

Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits with Heart Disease

Heart Conditions and Social Security Disability

Ischemic heart disease, also commonly referred to as “coronary artery disease” or “coronary heart disease,” generally arises from narrowed heart arteries, which are generally responsible for supplying blood to the heart. The term “ischemic” simply means that a particular organ (in this case the heart) is not getting enough blood flow or oxygen.

There are various reasons that coronary arteries may become blocked. These reasons include blood clots and constriction of the blood vessels. However, the most common cause is the buildup of plaque, which is typically correlated with obesity and uncontrolled lipid levels. In extreme cases, where blood flow to the heart is completely blocked, or nearly so, this can lead to the death of heart cells, which can result in heart attack.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States. Ischemic, or coronary artery disease, is the most common type of heart disease. According to 2017 statistics, approximately 365,914 people died as a result of coronary heart disease.

Given that coronary artery disease is also accompanied by a number of other conditions, including musculoskeletal pain, difficulty breathing, and immune system problems, many people applying for Social Security Disability benefits suffer from some form of ischemic heart disease.

What Are the Symptoms of Ischemic Heart Disease?

The most common symptom of ischemic/coronary artery disease is “angina.” This is a medical term for chest pain and discomfort. Shortness of breath and fatigue are often reported as well. Unfortunately, for many people, a heart attack is the first sign or symptom a person with coronary artery disease notices. Sometimes, these are mild and very treatable. Other times, they can be fatal.

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • weakness, dizziness, cold spots, and nausea
  • pain and/or discomfort in the arms or shoulder
  • difficulty breathing
  • chest pain or discomfort

What Must Be Shown to Get Disability for Ischemic Heart Disease?

Ischemic heart disease does have a “Listing” in the Social Security Disability “Blue Book.” This can be found at Listing 4.04. This listing is one of the more technical listings, and a full explanation of what is required to meet this listing is beyond the scope of can reasonably be included on this page.

The three basic ways to prove Listing 4.04 is through a stress test, angiography, or repeated (three, to be exact) ischemic episodes within a 12-month period. An ischemic episode is simply a serious cardiac event or a heart attack that results in angioplasty (a procedure to restore blood flow through the artery) or bypass surgery.

What if My Ischemic Heart Disease Doesn’t Meet the Disability Listings?

Sometimes, you can’t prove any of the above conditions, but you still have symptoms that make you unable to work and medical evidence to document it. In addition, people with ischemic heart disease commonly suffer from joint pain, osteoarthritis, gout, diabetes, depression, and anxiety. Individuals suffering from coronary artery disease are often unable to exercise effectively, which usually makes things worse.

If your coronary artery disease does not meet the Listing, the Social Security Administration may look at your “residual functional capacity,” or RFC. The five categories of residual functional capacity are

  1. Sedentary
  2. Light
  3. Medium
  4. Heavy
  5. Very Heavy

The category you fall into generally depends on your ability to stand and/or walk and the amount of weight you can lift consistently.

Your residual functional capacity accounts for your ability to:

  • push and/or pull (including operation of hand and/or foot controls)
  • climb ramps and stairs
  • climb ladders ropes and scaffolds
  • balance

It also evaluates whether you:

  • experience difficulty stooping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling;
  • have any mental, emotional, or psychological impairments (like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder) that limit you to unskilled work; and/or
  • have any environmental limitations, such as being unable to work in extreme heat or cold, or not being up to work in an environment with fumes.

Whether or not you are found to be disabled depends on how an Administrative Law Judge or other adjudicator weighs medical evidence and determines your residual functional capacity. This is why it is so important to develop the medical evidence, including getting properly worded statements from any treating medical providers.

How a Cardiologist Can Help Your Claim

In our experience, the diagnosis of coronary artery disease is usually done through exercise stress tests, echocardiograms, electrocardiograms (ECG or EKG), chest x-rays, and coronary angiography. Some internal medicine or family doctors are very familiar with what is required for a proper diagnosis of ischemic heart disease. However, unless the very specific findings are made as outlined above, it is unlikely that the Social Security Administration will place much weight on the diagnosis. Most of the tests described above are only given by cardiologists.

If you think you have coronary artery disease, but you cannot seem to get the proper diagnosis, asking your family doctor to be referred to a cardiologist is a good idea.

The following are some of the clinics in West Michigan that specialize in Cardiology:

West Michigan Cardiology 
743 E. Beltline Ave. NE. 
Grand Rapids, MI 49525 
(616) 456-9533

West Shore Cardiology 
1212 E Sherman Blvd. 
Muskegon, MI 49444 
(231) 672-3500

Grand Rapids Cardiology 
1310 East Beltline Avenue SE, Suite 130 
Grand Rapids, MI 49506 
(616) 717-5141

Was Your Disability Claim Denied? We Can Help!

The unfortunate reality is that the majority of people, even those people who clearly suffer from coronary heart disease, are denied benefits on their first attempt. The majority of claims have to be brought before an Administrative Law Judge, where you will testify at a hearing. We recognize that this can be a nerve-wracking process, but we are here to help you prepare for it.

In addition to preparing the medical evidence in your case, we will meet with you in person several times prior to the hearing to ensure you are prepared for the questions the judge is going to ask. And with Nolan & Shafer, PLC, unlike many other nationwide and large firms, you have one attorney from the start of your claim until the end.

With the disability attorneys at Nolan & Shafer, PLC, there’s no fee unless we win your case. Call (231) 403-0040 or contact us online today to discuss your Social Security Disability claim for ischemic heart disease. 


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