Can You Get Social Security Disability Benefits for Celiac Disease?

It's difficult to get Social Security Disability benefits for celiac disease unless you have long-term damage caused by the disease.

Reviewed by , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

Celiac disease is also known as coeliac disease or "gluten-sensitive enteropathy." It's a digestive condition triggered by gluten that damages the lining (specifically, the "villi") of the small intestine. Damaged villi can't properly absorb nutrients from food.

Symptoms and Complications of Celiac

Common symptoms of celiac disease include:

  • abdominal pain
  • bloating, and
  • diarrhea.

Celiac disease is caused by a reaction to gluten, a protein found in all types of wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. If you have celiac disease, your body's immune system attacks the healthy cells of your small intestine when exposed to gluten. If your celiac disease goes undiagnosed or untreated for a long time, it can cause serious problems like:

  • malnutrition
  • osteoporosis
  • vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • miscarriage or infertility
  • neurological diseases, and
  • certain cancers.

The only known treatment for celiac disease is to stop eating foods that contain gluten. And once you do, the disease symptoms will generally disappear altogether.

The reversible nature of celiac disease can make it difficult to get Social Security disability based on the condition alone. But it's not impossible. Here's what you need to know about getting Social Security disability for celiac disease.

Is Celiac Disease a Disability?

The symptoms of celiac disease can make it difficult to work and maintain a full-time job. But those symptoms will usually clear up if you stick to a gluten-free diet. Because of this, celiac symptoms don't usually last long enough to qualify as a disability under Social Security's rules. (To qualify for disability, your impairment must have lasted at least one year or be expected to last at least one year.)

Although it's considered an autoimmune disorder, celiac disease isn't included in the Social Security Administration's (SSA's) Blue Book list of impairments under either the immune system listings or digestive system listings. But many of the conditions that can be caused by long-term or untreated celiac disease are included in Social Security's impairment listings. (See below.)

Can Celiac Disease Qualify for Disability Benefits?

You aren't likely to get Social Security disability benefits based on evidence of celiac disease alone. The symptoms and impairments of the disease generally aren't considered severe enough to keep you from engaging in gainful employment—especially since your condition is likely to improve by changing your diet.

But that isn't always the case. If your celiac disease hasn't improved after one year without gluten, it's called refractory or nonresponsive celiac disease. Nonresponsive celiac can be severe enough and long-lasting enough to qualify for Social Security disability.

In addition, if your celiac disease has caused serious damage that makes it impossible for you to work, you might qualify for benefits under the resulting impairment. Some of the serious conditions that can be caused by nonresponsive or long-term undiagnosed celiac disease include:

Those suffering from undiagnosed or nonresponsive celiac disease can also develop depression or anxiety. You can get Social Security disability benefits based on these side effects of celiac disease if your condition is serious enough to meet a listing.

Getting Disability for Related Illnesses

If you have celiac disease combined with impairments caused by other illnesses (like heart disease), you might be able to get Social Security disability benefits even if neither condition is serious enough to meet a listing on its own. Celiac patients might suffer from other conditions like:

Social Security does recognize and pay disability benefits for all of the above conditions, depending on their severity. And if you have multiple impairments, their combined effect can sometimes be enough to qualify for disability.

In addition, you might be able to get disability benefits if you weren't able to work for a period of over a year because you hadn't been diagnosed with celiac disease—even if your doctor has now diagnosed you and put you on a gluten-free diet. You might be able to receive benefits for the period when you were unable to work due to untreated celiac disease (called a "closed period" of eligibility).

When to See an Attorney for Your Celiac Disability Claim

Getting Social Security disability benefits for celiac disease can be an uphill battle, but it's possible in some cases. A quick consultation with a disability lawyer can help shed some light on the options you have to get disability benefits. Learn more about how a disability lawyer might help you with your claim.

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