If you have lupus, Social Security disability benefits may be available. To determine whether you are disabled by lupus, the Social Security Administration first considers whether your lupus is severe enough to meet or equal a listing at Step 3 of the Sequential Evaluation Process. See Winning Social Security Disability Benefits for Lupus by Meeting a Listing. If you meet or equal a listing because of lupus, you are considered disabled. If your lupus is not severe enough to equal or meet a listing, the Social Security Administration must assess your residual functional capacity (RFC) (the work you can still do, despite your lupus), to determine whether you qualify for disability benefits at Step 4 and Step 5 of the Sequential Evaluation Process. See Residual Functional Capacity Assessment for Lupus.
What Is Lupus?
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect any organ or body system. It is frequently accompanied by severe fatigue, fever, malaise, and weight loss. SLE is much more common in women, who account for 85% to 90% of the cases.
SLE is a multisystem disease. The immune response against the body’s own tissues can affect any organ, with joint, muscle, ocular, respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive, renal, hematologic, skin, neurological, or mental involvement.
Cause of Lupus
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease. Its cause is not well understood, but it does have a genetic component. Numerous “lupus genes” that influence the probability of developing lupus have been identified. SLE probably appears when a person has a particular combination of genes. Due to the complexity of the disease, a cure for SLE is not likely in the near future.
Severity of Lupus
SLE is unpredictable; it is characterized by exacerbations and improvements. It may follow a benign course and be highly responsive to medication, or it may take a sudden severe course leading to early death despite therapy. Any combination of organ systems can be involved in a particular individual, in any degree of severity.
Lupus may result in:
Additional possible abnormalities that may be associated with SLE include:
There are no universally agreed-upon criteria for making a diagnosis of SLE. The table below shows the diagnostic criteria required by the Social Security Administration.
Treatment for Lupus
Since SLE is incurable, treatment is based on drug therapy that will control symptoms and progression of the disease. Kidney failure is a major cause of death and kidney function must be closely monitored.
Therapy for lupus is based on suppressing the immune system. Systemic corticostroid drugs like prednisone can be highly effective, but their use is limited by potential side-effects (e.g., hypertension, obesity, poor wound healing, osteoporosis, osteonecrosis, cataracts). Methotrexate is another immunosuppressive drug that is useful in treating SLE. The anti-malarial drug plaquenil is often capable of keeping SLE under control.
Specific medications may be required for particular problems like hypertension, depression, and skin lesions.
Every case is different. Some people respond rapidly to maintenance therapy with plaquenil and have minimal symptoms. Others are not so fortunate.