Many conditions can qualify for Social Security disability, as long as they’re severe enough to keep you from working. We’ve helped clients get disability benefits for a wide range of health issues — from diabetes, to Crohn’s, to anxiety, to cancer.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a long “listing of impairments” in its Blue Book — breaking down the many conditions that can be eligible for disability, and the medical evidence they’ll look at for each one. If you have some conditions (called “compassionate allowances”) you may even automatically meet the medical qualifications.
Because the Blue Book can be technical and difficult to navigate, we’ve sorted and summarized the most common conditions that qualify for disability benefits. We’ll also explain how the SSA evaluates your eligibility, in layman's terms.
Side note: Everyone’s symptoms, treatment, and medical history are complex. We recommend using this guide as a starting point, but working with a lawyer once you’re ready to apply for benefits. They’ll know what medical evidence is most relevant, and help you navigate the complex application and appeal process.
To qualify for disability, the SSA ultimately needs to see two things:
You’re too sick or injured to work because of your condition.
You’ll be unable to work for at least one year because of your condition.
If you’re under age 50, you’ll have to prove that you’re unable to work in any job that exists. If you’re over 50, you have to prove you’re unable to work in fields you’ve previously worked in.
There are specific medical requirements based on your condition, and we’ll cover those in this article. There are also technical requirements based on your work history or income. You’ll probably meet them if you’ve worked for at least five of the past 10 years, but you can learn more about the technical rules for eligibility here.
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4 things to know before you apply for disability
Before you apply for disability benefits, here are some general rules to keep in mind:
1. Your eligibility is less about a specific diagnosis, and more about your ability to work. For example, two individuals could both struggle with diabetes. But if one is repeatedly hospitalized for diabetic ketoacidosis, and the other is able to manage their complications with diet and medication, only the former individual would qualify for benefits.
2. How long your condition is expected to last matters. You need to prove you’ll be out of work for at least one year. And since it takes more than two years to get benefits, on average, long-term conditions are more likely to qualify.
3. Having multiple conditions can improve your chances. Let’s say back pain prevents you from doing most manual labor and severe anxiety leads you to have panic attacks in customer-facing roles. This would disqualify you from doing more jobs than if you had back pain or anxiety alone.
4. The SSA likes to see that you have a recent treatment history. You’ll have a stronger application if you can show that you’re actively getting care for your condition and you’re following your doctors’ recommendations. We cover some specific tests and treatment in each condition section below.
Mental illnesses that qualify for disability (e.g. depression, autism)
Mental health conditions can qualify for disability benefits and they’re amongst the most common conditions with 34.6% of applicants having one (the SSA refers to them as mental disorders).
Some common mental health conditions that qualify for disability benefits:
Autism spectrum disorders
Personality and impulse-control disorders
Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders
PTSD and other trauma-related or stress-related disorders
However, many successful applicants qualify by having a mental health condition alongside another condition (e.g. kidney disease and anxiety, depression and back pain). It can be difficult (but by no means impossible!) to get disability benefits for mental illnesses alone.
Why it’s hard to qualify for mental health
There are a few key reasons it’s hard to qualify for benefits with a mental health condition:
It’s challenging to create universal definitions of what’s sufficiently inhibiting. Mental health symptoms change from person to person, making them hard for the SSA to evaluate.
Unlike physical symptoms, most mental health symptoms can’t be measured by tests or other standard medical methodologies that SSA doctors are trained to evaluate.
Unfortunately, mental health claims can also be met with skepticism and bias from disability examiners and judges.
If you’re applying for disability with a mental health condition alone, we highly recommend getting a disability lawyer who can make a compelling case for you before a judge.
Does my mental health condition qualify for disability?
Your mental condition may qualify for disability if at least some of the following are true:
You’ve been hospitalized for your mental health recently.
You have recent failed work attempts.
You struggle to understand, remember, or apply information (issues with memory, following instructions, solving problems, etc.).
Your condition impacts your ability to interact with others (difficulty getting along with others, anger, avoidance, etc.).
You have issues concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace when you try to complete tasks.
You struggle to adapt or manage yourself (hygiene, responding to change, setting realistic goals, etc.).
Musculoskeletal or orthopedic conditions that qualify for disability (e.g. back pain, rheumatoid arthritis)
If you have pain or limited mobility when performing basic physical tasks, you’re likely a good candidate for disability benefits. In fact, 30.1% of disability recipients receive benefits for orthopedic or musculoskeletal disorders. Being unable to easily walk, sit, stand, or lift items for extended periods of time makes it difficult to do many jobs.
Whether your struggles with mobility are chronic (like back pain or possible severe sciatica), involve the soft tissues (like burns) or are due to another disorder (like rheumatoid arthritis or another inflammatory arthritis), many of the same requirements apply.
Does my orthopedic or musculoskeletal disorder qualify for disability?
Your condition may qualify for disability if you have some of the following symptoms:
You struggle to perform basic tasks around the house (like cooking and cleaning).
You have a hard time getting or staying comfortable for long stretches of time.
You struggle to walk on your own (you need a cane, walker, or other assistive device to get around).
You struggle to pick up, hold, or lift items (anything over 25 pounds).
You seek treatment from a chiropractor, neurosurgeon, orthopedic surgeon, physical therapist, or a spine or pain management specialist.
You’ve confirmed your back pain through diagnostic testing, like X-Rays, an MRI, or a CAT Scan.
Sense and speech disorders that qualify for disability (i.e. blindness, deafness)
Blindness, deafness, and other sensory disorders can qualify for disability — 10% of SSDI recipients having at least one of these conditions. But the rules can be very complicated and very technical. We recommend looking at the SSA guide to sensory disorders and bringing them to your doctor. Beyond that, qualifying for these conditions is similar to any other — if they prevent you from being able to work, they can qualify.
We’ll briefly cover blindness and deafness since they’re the most common, but conditions that involve your ability to speak or to balance (like vertigo) can also qualify.
How to get disability for blindness
The SSA has an extremely specific definition of what is considered blind for disability eligibility. If you think you might qualify, it’s worth bringing these criteria to your optometrist to confirm:
“Central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of a correcting lens. We use your best-corrected central visual acuity for distance in the better eye when we determine if this definition is met.” AND
“An eye that has a visual field limitation such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees is considered as having a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less.”
Generally speaking, your blindness can’t be correctable with vision aids. If glasses or contacts would solve the problem, it’s unlikely to qualify.
How to get disability for deafness
If you’ve received cochlear implants, you qualify for disability benefits for one year after they were implanted. You also can receive benefits if, after that year, you have word recognition of less than 60% during a Hearing in Noise Test (HINT).
If you haven’t received cochlear implants, the rules are technical and come down to your results on audiometric tests and otologic exams. Consult a lawyer, or bring the SSA Blue Book definition to your doctor and ask them to note your test results in your medical records.
Respiratory conditions that qualify for disability (e.g. COPD, cystic fibrosis)
Among disability benefit recipients, 2.4% have a respiratory condition. Like other disorders, there are many respiratory conditions that can be disabling if sufficiently severe. For example, if your asthma prevents you from running long distances but is manageable with an inhaler, there are still many jobs you can do. But if you have frequent asthma attacks doing regular, day-to-day tasks, you’re likely unable to work.
Here are common respiratory illnesses that can qualify for disability:
Chronic pulmonary hypertension
Does my respiratory disorder qualify for disability?
You may qualify for disability benefits if some of the following are true for you:
You’ve been hospitalized recently.
You are seeing a pulmonologist.
You require the use of oxygen.
You have testing that shows airflow obstruction.
You’ve had recent respiratory failure.
There are additional qualifications for conditions like sleep apnea. If it changes your cognition or behavior, or leads you to have low blood oxygen or pulmonary vasoconstriction, you may qualify.
Cardiovascular system conditions that qualify for disability (e.g. congestive heart failure, POTs)
Any disorder that affects the proper functioning of the heart or the circulatory system can qualify for disability — 6.8% of people on SSDI have such conditions.
Some common cardiovascular and heart conditions that qualify for disability benefits:
Aneurysms (especially if you experience consistent chest pain)
Congestive heart failure (especially if you’ve had to be hospitalized due to episodes)
Coronary artery disease
Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)
Generally, regardless of the condition, the SSA expects you to have at least one of the following issues as the result of your cardiovascular disease:
Chronic heart failure or ventricular dysfunction
Discomfort or pain due to myocardial ischemia
Inadequate cardiac output
Pulmonary vascular disease
Syncope or near syncope
Does my heart condition qualify for disability?
If some or most of the following apply to you, you may qualify for disability:
You seek regular treatment from a cardiologist.
You become winded or suffer from breathlessness after any activity.
You experience leg swelling.
You experience lightheadedness, chest pain, palpitation, or fatigue.
You’ve undergone a stress test, ECG, or angiogram — or your doctor says your condition is too severe to undergo a stress test.
Your condition has not improved with medication.
Digestive system disorders that qualify for disability (e.g. chronic liver disease, Crohn’s)
Several digestive system disorders, when severe or difficult to treat, qualify for disability benefits — 1.4% of disability recipients have digestive disorders. Common conditions include
Chronic liver disease
Inflammatory bowel disease
The SSA may also look at symptoms and surgeries as indicative of your disability. For example, if you suffer from weight loss due to a digestive disorder, if you've had a liver transplant, or if you've suffered gastrointestinal hemorrhaging that required a blood transfusion — you might qualify, regardless of what your underlying condition is.
If you have a colostomy bag, you may also be eligible for benefits.
Does my digestive system disorder qualify for disability?
The exact criteria you must meet will depend on your condition.
If you have IBD may qualify for disability if your bowels are obstructed. Alternatively, you qualify if you're following your treatment as prescribed and two or more of the following are true:
You have anemia with hemoglobin less than 10 g/dL.
You have a serum albumin of 3.0 g/dL or less.
You have a tender abdominal mass felt on physical exam with abdominal pain.
You have perianal disease with a draining abscess or fistula.
You experience unintentional weight loss of at least 10%.
You need supplemental daily nutrition by a feeding tube.
For liver diseases, you’ll meet the medical requirements if you experience hemorrhaging that results in hospitalization. There are several other tests that can be taken to confirm your chronic liver disease, but they're very technical (e.g. "Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis with peritoneal fluid containing an absolute neutrophil count of at least 250 cells"). Again, if your condition is sufficiently painful, severe, or unstable enough to prevent you from continuing to work — it’s worthwhile to apply for disability.
One side note about liver conditions specifically: Generally, the SSA isn’t supposed to consider your lifestyle when determining your disability. But if you drink alcohol — or suffer from alcoholism — and are applying for disability for your liver condition, that might hurt your case.
Genitourinary disorders that qualify for disability (e.g. chronic kidney disease)
Genitourinary disorders — chronic kidney disease being the most common — can qualify for disability benefits and 1.7% of current SSDI recipients have a genitourinary condition.
If you suffer from renal failure, and are receiving dialysis, you should qualify for disability automatically. In that case, it’d be worthwhile to reach out to your Disability Determination Services (DDS) office when you submit your application. They may be able to fast-track it for approval.
Does my genital or urinary disorder qualify for disability?
Your condition or kidney disease may qualify for Social Security disability benefits if some or most of the following are true for you:
You have exams, labs, and evaluation reports from the last 90 days.
You’ve undergone a kidney or bone biopsy.
You’ve received hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis.
You’ve experienced fluid buildup.
You’ve experienced excessive weight loss due to kidney disease.
You’ve been hospitalized at least three times in the last 12 months, at least 30 days apart.
You’ve received a kidney transplant.
Hematological disorders that qualify for disability (e.g. sickle cell disease, bone marrow failure)
Hematological conditions are generally well documented by lab tests, and that's what the SSA will look at first. They'll want to see a lab report of a definitive test signed by a physician, or at the very least, a report from a physician that states you have the disorder you’re applying with.
Overall, 0.3% of people on disability have hematological disorders, with common conditions including
Disorders of bone marrow failure
Sickle cell disease
You can also qualify for complications from the treatment of hematological disorders, or procedures that involve bone marrow or stem cell transplantation.
Does my blood disorder qualify for disability?
Your specific blood disorder may qualify if at least some of the following are true for you:
You’ve been hospitalized at least three times within the last 12 months.
You require RBC transfusions every six weeks.
You have documented painful (vaso-occlusive) crises that require medication.
Your complications (anemia, skin ulcers, pain, fatigue, etc.) limit your ability to complete tasks, function socially, or pursue the activities of daily living.
Skin disorders that qualify for disability (e.g. burns, psoriasis)
Skin disorders can qualify for disability, though just 0.2% of disability recipients have one.
If you have a skin condition, a big consideration is its duration or the duration of your flare ups. For example, if you’re suffering after a burn, will your recovery time be longer than a year? If you suffer from dermatitis, have you had skin lesions or flare-ups for at least three months?
Genetic sensitivity disorders (you’d be considered disabled at birth)
Does my skin disorder qualify for disability?
A few signs your specific skin disorder may render you unable to work, and eligible for disability:
You experience regular pain as the result of either your condition or your treatment.
You have skin lesions in sensitive areas that prevent you from completing tasks (e.g. skin lesions on your hands that limit your fine motor skills, skin lesions on your feet that impact your ability to walk, skin lesions on your joints that limit your use of an extremity).
Your skin condition impacts your other senses (e.g. facial lesions that prevent you from comfortably talking or chewing) or your mental health.
Your flare-ups are frequent enough to prevent you from keeping a consistent work schedule.
Endocrine disorders that qualify for disability (e.g. diabetes)
Diabetes is the most common endocrine disorder we see qualify for Social Security disability. All told, 2.3% of benefits recipients have an endocrine disorder. Other potentially qualifying conditions include
Adrenal gland disorders
Parathyroid gland disorders
Pituitary gland disorders
Thyroid gland disorders
Oftentimes with endocrine disorders, the SSA evaluates complications that affect your other bodily systems. For example, if your thyroid gland disorder results in cognitive limitations, mood disorders, and anxiety, the SSA will evaluate these symptoms like it would a mental health disorder. If your parathyroid gland disorder alters the calcium levels in your bones, they'll evaluate the parathyroid-related osteoporosis and fractures like a musculoskeletal disorder.
Does my endocrine disorder qualify for disability?
For diabetes and other endocrine disorders, you’re likely to qualify for benefits if some of the following are true for you:
You experience neuropathy or brain fog.
You suffer from open wounds or required amputation.
You experience numbness or tingling in your feet or hands, or have lost sensation in a limb.
You have vision problems (diabetic retinopathy).
You have severe gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation and incontinence.
Cancer can qualify for disability and 3.0% of benefit recipients have a kind of cancer. If you have stage 4 cancer, you should qualify automatically and the SSA may fast-track your application.
Some types of cancer that commonly qualify, though this isn’t an exhaustive list:
The following cancers qualify for accelerated approval:
Breast cancer with distant metastases, or that’s inoperable or unresectable
Non-small cell lung cancer
Ovarian cancer with distant metastases, or that’s inoperable or unresectable
Small cell cancer (large intestine, prostate, or thymus)
Small cell cancer of female genital tract
Small cell lung cancer
Does my cancer qualify for disability?
Your cancer may qualify you for benefits if some of the following are true for you:
You’ve had a biopsy or procedure to remove cancer.
You receive ongoing treatment and have recent scans.
You have an oncology team (like a specialist and radiologist).
You experience long-lasting side-effects from treatment, such as chemo symptoms that last more than 12 months).
Specific rules about cancer in remission
If you’re in partial remission but you still have symptoms that make it hard to work a job, you should still apply for benefits. If you’ve already applied for and are receiving disability benefits, remission shouldn’t immediately impact your benefits. Your cancer is considered disabling unless you go three years from the original tumor being present, fully in remission, without any cancer recurring. At this point, the SSA may reevaluate your eligibility.
Immune disorders that qualify for disability (e.g. lupus, HIV/AIDS, gout)
Immune disorders can qualify for disability benefits, with lupus, gout, and HIV/AIDS being the most common conditions. AIDS applicants, like some cancer applicants, can often be “fast-tracked.” For more details see our list of TERI conditions (and other conditions that automatically qualify) later on.
Other immune conditions that may qualify include:
Polymyositis and dermatomyositis
Systemic sclerosis (scleroderma)
Does my immune disorder qualify for disability?
The symptoms and day-to-day impact of immune disorders often vary, but here are some general signs you may qualify:
You have diagnostic testing to confirm your diagnosis (X-Rays, MRIs, CAT Scan).
You experience fatigue, fevers, or involuntary weight loss.
You have more than one organ affected by your condition.
You suffer from a lack of mobility or movement in your joints.
You seek treatment from a neurologist, rheumatologist, or infectious disease doctor.
Lupus has some more specific symptoms the SSA may look at:
Butterfly rash on face
Difficulties with extremities in cold
Intolerance to the sun
Involvement of two or more organs or body systems
Lesions on skin
Memory loss and confusion
Severe fatigue, fever, malaise, or involuntary weight loss
Neurological disorders that qualify for disability (e.g. epilepsy, stroke, multiple sclerosis, ALS)
Symptoms, treatment efficacy, and day-to-day impact of neurological disorders vary, but many conditions or circumstances (like a stroke), can qualify you for disability. Some neurological conditions, like ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), automatically qualify for disability benefits. (Learn more in our section on automatic qualifications below.)
The following are some neurological conditions that qualify for Social Security disability:
Traumatic brain injury
Does my neurological disorder qualify for disability?
Here are the most common neurological disorders that qualify, and some side effects that might indicate to the SSA that they’re disabling.
Limitations in the ability to speak, hear, or see
Secondary symptoms like fatigue, weakness, arthritis, learning problems, or mental health conditions
Regular seizures (generalized, tonic-clonic, focal, or dyscognitive)
Severe seizures (biting tongue, losing consciousness, muscle spasms)
Multiple seizures within a 24-hour period
Prescribed medication that hasn’t improved your condition
Fatigue, dizziness, tingling, imbalance, numbness, or tremors
Peripheral neuropathy, stroke, and traumatic brain injury:
Symptoms that last for at least three consecutive months
Disorganization of motor function that makes it hard to stand up from a seated position, balance while standing or walking, or use your arms and hands
Cognitive difficulties (concentrating, remembering and applying information, interacting with others, etc.)
Sensory or motor aphasia
Injuries, infectious diseases, and other disorders
There are many other circumstances, conditions, injuries, and diseases that may qualify you for disability. When in doubt: If your condition makes it very hard, or impossible, to work over an extended period of time, it’s worthwhile to apply for disability.
If your injury or illness won’t last over a year, but is preventing you from working, you may have other options:
Your state may offer its own short-term disability program.
Your workplace may offer short or long-term disability insurance.
You may qualify for workers’ compensation if you got sick or injured at work.
Conditions that automatically qualify for disability
Broadly speaking there are two categories of conditions that medically qualify you automatically for disability benefits. (You’ll still have to meet work history or income and asset requirements — more on those here.) These are compassionate allowance cases and TERI (terminal illness) cases.
Compassionate allowance conditions are those that are deemed sufficiently disabling by diagnosis alone. There are many disorders on this list — like Coffin-Lowry syndrome, early-onset Alzheimer's, and several types of cancer.
TERI conditions sometimes overlap with these. If you or a third party assert (with medical evidence) that your illness is terminal, it can be flagged as a TERI case and fast-tracked.
TERI conditions and circumstances
The following list includes some, but not all, TERI conditions that can qualify for fast tracking:
AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome)
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), known as Lou Gehrig's disease
Receiving inpatient or at-home hospice care
Chronic dependence on a cardiopulmonary life-sustaining device
Chronic pulmonary or heart failure requiring continuous home oxygen
Any cancer that is metastatic (has spread), Stage IV, persistent and recurrent following initial therapy, or inoperable
Cancer of the esophagus, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, mesothelioma, small/oat cell lung cancer, brain cancer, acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), or acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)
A coma lasting for 30 days or more
Lethal genetic or congenital defects in newborns
Get free legal advice specific to your condition
Maybe your condition isn’t listed here. Or you have multiple conditions. Or your symptoms are inconsistent, subsiding, or likely to get worse.
Navigating the technicality and the legality of the Social Security disability system can be hard. A good lawyer will have studied the SSA Blue Book extensively, will know what medical evidence you need, and can help you with your application (often they can even complete it for you).
For free legal advice or a lawyer (if you want or need one!) get started with Atticus. Our team of caring client advocates are ready to listen and provide more personalized help. Get started with our 2-minute intake quiz.
Many conditions are eligible for disability benefits. See what you qualify for instantly.
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