The pancreas, a large gland located behind the stomach, releases enzymes into the small intestine that helps digest food. It also releases insulin and glucagon into the body’s bloodstream to control how food is used for energy.

When your pancreas is functioning properly, the enzymes only become active when they reach the small intestine. But when a person has pancreatitis, the pancreas becomes inflamed, and the enzymes are activated before they should and begin to attack and damage the pancreatic tissues.

pancreas_anatomyPeople can suffer from either acute or chronic pancreatitis, and both are serious. Acute pancreatitis comes on quickly, but the inflammation usually diminishes after a few days of treatment. Chronic pancreatitis is inflammation that continues over a long period of time, and patients have permanent pancreatic damage, and the long-term inflammation causes scar tissue.  

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reports that approximately 210,000 adults in the U.S. are admitted to the hospital each year with acute pancreatitis.

If you suffer from chronic pancreatitis, you may be eligible for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). However, you must be able to show that your condition is disabling, and you’re unable to work. Because obtaining disability benefits can be challenging, it’s helpful to hire an experienced Social Security (SS) disability attorney to help you file your claim.

Causes of Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis can develop in anyone, but people most at risk are those who are heavy alcohol drinkers. Additionally, there are a number of causes of pancreatitis. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Gallstones
  • Genetics, a family history of pancreatitis
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Surgery
  • Medications
  • Smoking
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Hypercalcemia, or  high calcium levels in the blood

In approximately 15 percent of patients suffering from acute pancreatitis, there's not a known cause.

Obtaining SS Disability for Pancreatitis

There's not a listing in the SSA Blue Book Listing of Impairments for pancreatitis. However, you may be able to qualify for benefits if your pancreatitis has caused you to experience unexpected and severe weight loss.

To be eligible, you need proof that your body mass index (BMI) is less than 17.5 based on two individual evaluations. Both of these evaluations must be performed within a consecutive six-month period, at least 60 days apart. You may be able to qualify under Section 5.08 of the SSA Blue Book under Digestive System Disorders and must be able to prove malabsorption of nutrition and unexplained weight loss. It may also be possible to qualify under Section 9.0, Endocrine Disorders.

If you don’t have medical evidence that meets the requirements of a Blue Book listing, you may still be able to obtain benefits if you can provide proof that your pancreatitis makes it impossible for you to sustain gainful employment.

Your application will be evaluated using your residual functional capacity (RFC). The SSA uses the RFC to assess your ability to do any type of work after considering your mental and physical limitations due to your disability. If the SSA determines that you're unable to do any work—including types of jobs you may have held in the past—you may be approved for a vocational allowance. The SSA will make this determination based on whether you can work an 8-hour day, five days a week, on an ongoing basis.

However, you’ll have to provide a great deal of documentation and medical evidence to support your claim that you’re unable to work. It’s extremely helpful to your claim to include your doctor’s notes and opinions about how your condition limits your activities and impacts your ability to work. For example, your doctor should explain how your pancreatitis interferes with your ability to sit, walk, or stand for long periods of time and your ability to effectively use your hands.

We Can Help

If you’ve been diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis, you may qualify for SS disability benefits. Hiring an experienced SS attorney can help determine if you meet a listing in the Blue Book or your condition could be evaluated under the RFC.

Contact the attorneys at Cuddigan Law who can help you understand the process and work with you on your application to increase your chances of getting an approved claim. 


Timothy J. Cuddigan (Founder - Retired)
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Omaha Social Security and Veterans Disability Lawyer With Over 40 Years Experience