Achy joints can make it difficult to do many types of jobs, and rheumatoid arthritis is a condition that affects many people, making it difficult to go to work or even do daily tasks, such as tying shoelaces or walking. If rheumatoid arthritis becomes bad enough, some people could need financial assistance so that they can pay bills. Understanding the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, who it affects, what kinds of treatments are available, and who will qualify for financial benefits through the Social Security Administration can be helpful to people who are considering applying.
What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
The two most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. While osteoarthritis is caused mainly from wear and tear on the joints, rheumatoid arthritis is actually an autoimmune disorder that can affect a wide range of body systems, including the joints. But it can also affect the eyes, skin, lungs, heart, and blood vessels.
For people with rheumatoid arthritis, their immune system mistakenly attacks their bodies. The arthritic component of rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system attacks the lining of the joints, resulting in bone erosion that affects functioning of the joints. Eventually, the cartilage and bone are damaged. Tendons and ligaments also stretch to deformity.
There are several factors that could be responsible for making a person more susceptible to developing rheumatoid arthritis. For instance, genetics could play a role in developing the disease, especially if the person is a smoker or does other activities that make them higher risk. Women are also more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, and being middle aged also increases the likelihood of developing the disease. Obesity and exposure to environmental factors, such as silica and asbestos, also make it more likely that some people will develop rheumatoid arthritis.
Seeing a doctor early on after developing rheumatoid arthritis can lessen the severity of symptoms now and potentially slow the progression of the disease. People who are experiencing swelling and achiness in joints, such as the hands, should talk to a doctor to determine if they have rheumatoid arthritis.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Some of the most common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis affect the joints, and in the early stages, the symptoms will show up in the smaller joints. For instance, tenderness, swelling, and warmth is common. Many people will also experience stiffness in the mornings. And many people with rheumatoid arthritis will experience fatigue, decreased appetite, and fever.
There are some symptoms that not everyone with rheumatoid arthritis will experience. In fact, only about 40% of people with rheumatoid arthritis will experience symptoms in non-joint areas. For instance, some rheumatoid arthritis will affect some people in their skin, lungs, heart, eyes, kidneys, salivary glands, bone marrow, blood vessels, and nerve tissue.
When major non-joint systems are affected by rheumatoid arthritis, that’s when symptoms like fatigue, unexplained weight loss, fever, and malaise become more common.
In general, symptoms can come and go for people with rheumatoid arthritis. When the symptoms are stronger and there’s more inflammation, these are called flare-ups. Later, people can go into relative remission from the flare-ups.
Additionally, because rheumatoid arthritis affects the tendons, joint lining, and other parts of the joints, it’s common for affected joints to become deformed after many years of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
And it’s also possible for people with rheumatoid arthritis to develop complications, such as dry eyes and mouth, infections, carpal tunnel, heart problems, rheumatoid nodules, lung disease, and lymphoma.
Treatments of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Unfortunately, there isn’t a treatment plan that will cause someone to go completely symptom-free forever or cause someone to be cured from rheumatoid arthritis. There are, however, some treatments that can cause a remission of rheumatoid arthritis so that a person can live free of pain for extended periods of time. For instance, starting disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs early on will reduce symptoms and help people stay in remission from rheumatoid arthritis.
Some doctors will also prescribe pain killers and other types of drugs to help alleviate some of the negative symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis. For instance, NSAIDs are often used to reduce inflammation and pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes the standard over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, are effective. Otherwise, if they’re not, doctors can also prescribe stronger forms of pain relievers. Steroids, such as prednisone, are also prescribed to reduce inflammation and pain. Steroids can also slow joint damage.
Physical and occupational therapy is another option that can help many people with rheumatoid arthritis continue to work and stay active. For instance, a therapist can give exercises that will help strengthen joints and promote flexibility.
There are also times when people with rheumatoid arthritis need surgery to fix places where the arthritis has caused damage. For instance, total joint replacement is one way that a doctor can relieve pain. Otherwise, tendon repair and joint fusion are options. Finally, an operation called synovectomy is a surgery where the inflamed lining is removed to alleviate symptoms of arthritis.
Disability Benefits for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Many people with severe rheumatoid arthritis qualify for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration. The Blue Book lists the full qualifications that the SSA requires an applicant to have in order to receive those benefits. In general, the rheumatoid arthritis must significantly impact a person’s ability to work.
More specifically, the applicant must meet one of several criteria to be eligible for benefits. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms that are in the legs can cause difficulties with walking that could be severe enough that a person is unable to do some types of jobs. Similarly, rheumatoid arthritis in both arms can prevent someone from doing some types of jobs, which could then qualify an applicant for disability benefits.
If an applicant with rheumatoid arthritis has a permanent deformity in a major joint and rheumatoid arthritis is affecting at least two major systems, which in turn cause fatigue, weight loss, fever, or malaise, then the applicant could be eligible for benefits.
People who have ankylosing spondylitis that’s fixated in the spine with at least 45 degrees or has a fixation in the spine of at least 30 degrees and has involvement of at least two or more body systems will also likely be eligible for benefits.
Finally, people who have repeated flare-ups of rheumatoid arthritis and experience symptoms like fatigue, malaise, or weight loss and also have difficulties working because of these symptoms might be eligible for SSA disability benefits.
A final way to get disability benefits is to apply for a medical-vocational allowance. To receive benefits, applicants have to fill out a residual functional capacity test, which will include a doctor’s description of the limitations that the disease places on the patient. From that description, the SSA will compare the symptoms with the requirements of the previous jobs that a person has done to determine whether or not there’s any work that the applicant is suited for.
How We Can Help
There are several ways in which the team at Osterhout Berger Disability Law can help you receive the benefit you deserve. We help individuals who need to…
- Apply for Social Security Benefits and want to ensure everything is done right the first time
- Appeal a denial of Social Security Disability Benefits
- Appeal an existing denial of Long Term Disability (LTD) Benefits
If you are facing one of these situations due to rheumatoid arthritis, please do not hesitate in reaching out. Our team of experienced attorneys are here to help, and your consultation is free.