Freidreich's Ataxia and Social Security Disability
There are a number of diseases that affect muscles and nerves. One disease that affects muscles and nerves is Friedreich's ataxia. “Friedreich's ataxia is a rare inherited disease that causes nervous system damage and movement problems. It usually begins in childhood and leads to impaired muscle coordination (ataxia) that worsens over time.” Symptoms An individual with Freidreich's ataxia first appears to have difficulty walking. As the walking difficulties worsen, the ataxia, or “incoordination” spreads to the arms and the body's trunk. An individual may lose sensation in their extremities. “Other features include loss of tendon reflexes, especially in the knees and ankles. Most people with Friedreich's ataxia develop scoliosis (a curving of the spine to one side), which often requires surgical intervention for treatment.” Additional symptoms include slurring of speech, chest pain, shortness of breath and heart palpitations. “The rate of [disease] progression varies from person to person. Generally, within 10 to 20 years after the appearance of the first symptoms, the person is confined to a wheelchair, and in later stages of the disease individuals may become completely incapacitated.” Causes As stated, Freidreich's ataxia is an inherited disorder. For an individual to develop the disease, they must inherit two copies of the defective gene. The abnormal gene disrupts the body's production of the protein frataxin. Low frataxin disrupts the functioning of mitochondria, the energy factories of cells. Diagnosis As with all diagnoses, a complete medical history and physical examination are needed. Doctors look for “balance difficulty, loss of proprioception (joint sensation), absence of reflexes, and signs of neurological problems.” Common diagnostic tests used to help in diagnosis are electromyogram, nerve conduction studies, electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, MRI, CT scans, and blood tests for elevated glucose and vitamin E levels. Treatments Because Freidreich's ataxia is a genetic disease, there is no cure. Treatments are limited to managing symptoms as they arise. If an individual with the disease develops diabetes, then diabetic treatments are prescribed and monitored. Heart disease “can be controlled with treatments developed for use in heart conditions not related to” Freidreich's ataxia. “Surgical procedures can correct foot deformities and scoliosis.” “Although there's no way to stop the progression of ataxia or muscle weakness in FA at this time, therapy can make it easier to cope with these problems. Physical therapy can help stretch tight muscles and enhance flexibility, and speech therapy can help retrain tongue and facial muscles to Improve speech and swallowing.” Social Security Disability When assessing a Social Security Disability (SSD) application for benefits due to Freidreich's ataxia, the Social Security Administration first looks at how the ataxia, or deteriorating motor coordination, interferes “with locomotion and/or the use of fingers, hands and arms.” In order to be eligible for SSD, an individual must show “significant and persistent disorganization of motor function in two extremities, resulting in sustained disturbance of gross and dexterous movements, or gait and station” for a period of 3 months. 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.