Chronic liver disease is not just a single disease. Instead, it’s a group of diseases that includes, liver cancer, alcoholic liver disease, liver failure, autoimmune hepatitis, sarcoidosis, cirrhosis, and hepatitis B and C. There are many causes of chronic liver disease such as drug abuse, hereditary factors, and viruses like hepatitis C.

In the U.S. alone, approximately four million people carry hepatitis C. This type of liver disease is caused by the infectious hepatitis C virus (HCV) and can ultimately lead to severe liver damage. This infection can make the liver swell and scar, may lead Chronic Liver Disease Being Examined Under a Magnifying Glassto liver cancer, and may bring on liver failure. Hepatitis C is spread by contact with blood.

Hepatitis C can be a chronic illness for some people. But some new drugs, including ribavirin, telaprevir, boceprevir, and pegylated interferon alpha have been effective in suppressing the virus and eradicating it in approximately 40 percent of patients. If a patient is diagnosed early in people who are young and strong, these medications are fairly successful. However, those who use drugs, abuse alcohol, are diabetic, or smoke experience the worst effects of this infection.

Because the treatment for this condition is hard on a patient’s body and the side effects can be debilitating, it’s possible to receive Social Security disability benefits if you’re unable to work. The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes the severity of this illness and provides benefits to those who are unable to sustain gainful employment.

Treatment Side Effects

The treatment for chronic liver disease and hepatitis C is especially rough on patients and can cause serious side effects. A patient may experience any number of debilitating symptoms, including:

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Jaundice
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Fever
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Difficulty Concentrating

In the U.S., between 8 and 10 thousand people die of hepatitis C each year, and this condition is the main reason most people need a liver transplant.

Getting Disability Benefits for Chronic Liver Disease

Some patients are able to live with hepatitis and lead regular lives; however, some become disabled by the symptoms of their condition and the side effects of their treatment. Both can significantly interfere with a patient’s ability to perform daily tasks and manage normal, routine activities.

However, in order to receive Social Security disability for liver disease, being diagnosed with hepatitis is not enough to qualify for benefits. Those who apply are required to meet specific medical criteria that shows how their condition has disabled them. The SSA evaluates hepatitis under Chronic Liver Disease section 5.05 of its “Blue Book” listing of impairments. This Blue Book defines what conditions and symptoms qualify a person for Social Security benefits. To meet the listing criteria for hepatitis, an applicant must provide medical evidence that documents one or more of the following conditions:

  • Esophageal, gastric, or ectopic varices that resulted in internal bleeding
  • Fluid in the abdomen
  • Levels of albumin that are abnormally low, also called hypoalbuminemia
  • Confusion due to the body’s inability to eliminate blood toxins, also called hepatic encephalopathy
  • A proven and confirmed diagnosis of liver disease or hepatitis
  • High levels of bilirubin in the patient’s blood

Additionally, in 2016, if your earnings are less than $1,130 per month, and your liver damage has disabled you for the past 12 consecutive months or is expected to last at least 12 more consecutive months, the SSA will consider your medical condition and make a determination about benefits.

If you don’t meet the requirements for liver disease, the SSA will still look to see if your condition has caused you functional limitations that prevent you from working. The agency will assess your “residual functional capacity” (RFC) to determine if there’s any type of work you’re able to perform given the limitations of your symptoms and side effects of your medication or treatments. For example, if you suffer bouts of nausea and vomiting and need to take periodic breaks from work, your RFC should note this. Any limitations or symptoms caused by your liver disease should be cited in your medical report. 

If you suffer from chronic liver disease, including hepatitis C, and it’s become debilitating, and you can no longer enjoy or participate in everyday activities or sustain gainful employment, call Cuddigan Law at (402) 933-5405. We’ll evaluate your eligibility for SS benefits. Be sure to ask for a copy of our free book, The 5 Deadly Mistakes That Can Destroy Your Social Security Disability Case.


Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska