Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) that affect an estimated 3 million U.S. adults according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC)—an increase of one-third from just 15 years prior. This statistic doesn’t include children under 18, who can also be affected by IBD, because most people are diagnosed in their 20s and 30s. It’s important to note that while ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are both considered IBDs and share a number of symptoms, there are also some differences.
Differences Between Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease
Although an individual may only experience some of the following conditions, or they may come and go, both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease have these symptoms in common:
- Stomach cramps and pain
- Diarrhea or constipation
- An urgent need to have a bowel movement
- Rectal bleeding
- Smaller appetite
- Weight loss
- Night sweats
- Abnormal menstrual cycle
The key differences are that ulcerative colitis only affects the large intestine, whereas inflammation can appear anywhere within the digestive tract in Crohn’s sufferers. In addition, because Crohn’s disease affects more of the gastrointestinal tract, it can cause issues not commonly found in those with ulcerative colitis, such as mouth sores, anal tears, ulcers, and infections. A physician will generally order an examination to determine which disease you are suffering from through X-rays, CT scans and MRIs, or an endoscopy.
Because symptoms of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease can impair your ability to do full-time work, patients suffering from these IBDs are eligible to receive disability benefits if certain conditions are met. The following are conditions under which you can indeed receive disability benefits for ulcerative colitis.
Diagnosis of IBD and Your Ability to Receive Disability Benefits
If a doctor diagnoses you with either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, you can qualify for disability benefits under the IBD categorization as listed in the Social Security Administration’s Blue Book, section 5.06. In addition to the diagnosis, however, you would need to show a specific complication that arose as a result of the disease that continuously affects your health and ability to do the type of work that you were doing before.
Conditions in which disability would apply include an obstruction in the small intestine or colon, confirmed by imaging or surgery, requiring hospitalization and occurring 60 days apart at least twice over a six-month period.
You are also eligible if any of the following two conditions occur despite treatment within the same 6-month period at least 60 days apart:
Anemia with hemoglobin of less than 10.0 g/dL
Serum albumin of 3.0 g/dL or less
Clinically documented tender abdominal mass palpable with abdominal pain or cramping that cannot be controlled by prescription medication
Perineal disease with a draining abscess or fistula, with pain that cannot be controlled by prescription medication
Need for supplemental nutrition through a daily gastrostomy or central venous catheter.
Applying for Disability Because of IBD-Induced Weight Loss
IBDs can affect the lining of the large intestine, causing inflammation and ulcers. This can damage the body’s digestive system, where crucial nutrients in your diet are lost through leaks along the lining of the colon and are excreted from the body as diarrhea. This complication can lead to excessive weight loss. If you have lost a significant amount of weight due to ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, you can qualify for disability benefits under the Social Security Administration's listing for weight loss.
Weight loss in itself is not considered a disability under the SSA, but it is classified as a symptom arising from a range of other complications that you may be experiencing and therefore affecting your ability to work. If you are experiencing involuntary weight loss, you can apply for benefits under section 5.08 which was written to specifically address “weight loss due to any digestive disorder.” To qualify, you need to have undergone treatment by a doctor and have recorded a BMI of 17.5 or less on two occasions over the span of 6 months.
Inability to do Full-time Work
In order to qualify for disability benefits due to ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, you need to show that the disease impairs your ability to work for a full 12-month period. This can be challenging because there are periods where the symptoms are severe enough that you cannot engage in any gainful employment, and there are times when they disappear completely. Many individuals facing the disease are able to work for several months during the year, which disqualifies them from being considered “permanently disabled.”
Symptoms of the disease such as diarrhea (requiring frequent unplanned trips to the bathroom), anemia and fatigue (which can inhibit your ability to work at an acceptable pace) can inhibit your ability to do full-time work. To increase your chances of qualifying for disability benefits due to this reason, you should be diagnosed by a specialist in addition to your primary doctor. Disability specialists at the SSA place a greater weight on diagnosis by specialists.
In addition, our disability advocates recommend that you keep a journal for a period of time; the more specific, the better. Record how you feel, any pain, the times you go to and leave the bathroom, and so on. Be as detailed as possible when keeping the journal; we understand that it is potentially embarrassing describing your symptoms in detail, but it can help your case.
The Disability Experts of Florida Can Help
Your ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s condition can make you eligible for disability benefits. If your condition is impairing you from working, the experts at DEF can help. With over 100 years of combined experience, we know how to navigate the SSA’s application process and we can help you prove your disability case—we’ve done it for thousands of other people just like you!
Don’t put off filing your application in fear of rejection. The anxiety and discomfort caused by the disease, and the pressure of having to work 40 hours a week or more in order to keep a roof over your head, can take a huge toll on your health. Let our team of experts help you get the benefits that you deserve.