Somatoform Disorders and Social Security Disability

Sometimes an individual may experience debilitating physical symptoms of which there is no known physical underlying cause. It is important to remember, however, that just because the cause of the symptoms is not known, the pain that the individual suffers and the limitations that pain places on their lives is no less real than any other medical condition. This is the case with patients who have been diagnosed with somatoform disorders. Even though an underlying physical condition may not be evident, these individuals can suffer severe symptoms that prevent them from performing gainful work activity. In cases such as these, an application for Social Security Disability benefits may be warranted. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with somatoform disorder and you are wondering whether or not you can obtain disability benefits as a result of the diagnosis, the following information will help you understand how the SSA reviews claims based on this particular condition.

Somatoform Disorders - Condition and Symptoms

The name somatoform disorders has been given to a group of disorders that are characterized by physical symptoms that suggest a patient is suffering from some type of medical disorder. However, in patients who suffer from somatoform disorders, the apparent cause of the symptoms cannot be established. Because of this, the symptoms are normally attributed to a psychiatric condition, as it is not uncommon for mood disorders to manifest physical symptoms.

There are different types of somatoform disorders that an individual may suffer from including somatization disorder, hypochondriasis, body dysmorphic disorder and conversion disorder. The symptoms of each disorder are very different, although they have all been labeled under the somatoform disorder spectrum.

When an individual suffers from somatization disorder, they usually experience pain and neurological symptoms, digestive symptoms and sexual symptoms as well as severe menstrual pain in women.

Those who suffer from hypochondriasis believe that common symptoms (such as a minor headache) are indications of a severe medical condition such as a brain tumor or aneurysm.

Patients who suffer from body dysmorphic disorder become obsessed with flaws in their physical appearance that may not actually exist. For example, small wrinkles around the eyes or slight hair loss can present major concerns for these individuals.

Those who suffer from conversion disorder develop neurological symptoms when no neurological disorder actually exists. For example, they may develop paralysis of a limb even though there is no medical reason for the condition. In these cases, stress can make the symptoms worse.

Contrary to what many people may believe, somatoform disorders are indeed real and the people who suffer from them do not merely “imagine” their symptoms. Some believe that the conditions are caused by a problem with the nerve impulses that are responsible for sending signals of pain to the brain.

Filing for Social Security Disability with Somatoform Disorders

Many of the people who suffer from somatoform disorders are relieved to discover that the Social Security Administration does recognize the condition in its Blue Book of Medical Listings under Section 12.07. According to this listing, in order for a patient to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits due to this condition, he or she must suffer from physical symptoms that cannot be traced to a physical finding. The physical symptoms must also meet the required level of severity published in the Blue Book. According to Section 12.07. These conditions are met when the requirements of subsections A and B of Section 12.07 are both met.

Subsection A states that a patient must have either:

  • A history of multiple physical symptoms of several years duration, beginning before age 30, that have caused the individual to take medicine frequently, see a physician often and alter life patterns significantly; or
  • Persistent nonorganic disturbance vision, speech, hearing, limb usage, movement and control or sensation; or
  • An unrealistic interpretation of physical signs or sensations associated with the preoccupation or belief that one has a serious disease or injury.

Subsection B states that a patient must have either:

  • Marked restriction of activities of daily living; or
  • Marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; or
  • Marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; or
  • Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration.

If an individual suffers from one criterion from each subsection, he or she will qualify for Social Security Disability benefits under Section 12.07 of the Medical Listings.

When filing your claim for Social Security Disability benefits due to a somatoform disorder, make sure that you include a complete copy of your medical and psychiatric records to support your case for Social Security Disability benefits. If your medical records clearly show that you meet the criteria of Section 12.07, you are likely to be approved for benefits during the initial stage of the application process.

Somatoform Disorders and Your Social Security Disability Case

It is important to note that nearly 70 percent of the Social Security Disability claims received each year are denied by the SSA during the initial stage of the application process. Because it can be hard to prove the severity of a somatoform disorder, yours may be among these denied applications. If you are denied benefits during the initial stage of the Social Security Disability application process, you will want to pursue a disability appeal.

When applying for Social Security Disability benefits it is crucial that you retain the services of a qualified disability advocate or attorney. These professionals can help you gather additional evidence to support your case and may retain expert witnesses to testify on your behalf at your disability hearing. Statistics show that applicants with proper representation are much more likely to win an appeal than applicants who try to endure an appeal by themselves.