Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Social Security Disability
Nerves control all body functions. If a nerve cell has a problem, the body part it is attached to has a problem. In amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, “nerve cells gradually break down and die.” Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease. “ALS often begins with muscle twitching and weakness in an arm or leg, or sometimes with slurring of speech.” ALS has no cure.
ALS starts off with:
- Difficulty walking or tripping, or difficulty doing your normal daily activities;
- Weakness in the leg, feet or ankles;
- Hand weakness or clumsiness;
- Slurring of speech or trouble swallowing;
- Muscle cramps and twitching in your arms, shoulders or tongue; and
- Difficulty holding your head up or keeping good posture.
As the disease progresses, more muscle groups are affected and the muscles continue to weaken. “This weakness eventually affects chewing, swallowing, speaking and breathing.”
A small percentage of individuals with ALS have inherited the condition. Some individuals have a gene mutation, which can lead to the inherited form of ALS. Individuals with ALS show a higher level of glutamate in their spinal fluid, which can “be toxic to some nerve cells.” In some cases, the individual's immune system attacks the nerve cells. Some nerve cells accumulate proteins that can cause nerve cell death.
There are other neurological diseases that have similar symptoms to ALS. In order to rule out other conditions, doctors use a number of tests. An electromyogram “test evaluates the electrical activity in the muscles when they contract and when they are at rest.” A nerve conduction study looks at the “nerves' ability to send impulses to muscles.” MRIs are used to rule out “spinal cord tumors, herniated disks in the neck or other conditions that may be causing the symptoms.” Other elimination tests are blood and urine tests, spinal taps, and muscle biopsies.
ALS has no cure. It is a progressive disease that cannot be reversed. “Treatments focus on slowing the progression of symptoms, preventing unnecessary complications and making the individual more comfortable and independent.” There is only one drug, riluzole, that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for ALS treatment. Other medications may be prescribed to relieve other symptoms. In addition to medications, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy are used to assist individuals to continue daily functions with adaptations to compensation for diminished muscle strength. “Psychologists, social workers and others may provide emotional support to the individual and that person's family.”
Social Security Disability
The Social Security Administration requires “neurological findings consistent with the diagnosis of ALS, and electrophysiological and neuroimaging testing to rule out other impairments that may cause similar signs and symptoms.” All “documentation of the diagnosis must be by generally accepted methods consistent with the prevailing state of medical knowledge and clinical practice.”
SSD applications require extensive documentation on an applicant's medical condition. If you are considering applying for disability benefits, contact our experienced attorney to assist you.