Migraines & Seizures

Migraines Can Be A Disability

Can migraine headaches be severe enough to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits?   

The short answer to this question is yes, though migraine headaches are undoubtedly evaluated differently than many other impairments under Social Security law.  migraines

Medically Determinable Impairment

In order for any impairment to be evaluated, it must considered a severe Medically Determinable Impairment (MDI).  An individual applying for disability can’t establish an MDI by providing a diagnosis alone or by reporting symptoms.  

A diagnosis is certainly a part, and a very important part, of the analysis. But in addition to this, an individual must provide evidence of clinical signs or laboratory findings to support the diagnosis and symptoms.  

Where migraines specifically are concerned, an individual must show a diagnosis of migraine headaches and a detailed description from a physician (M.D.).  This diagnosis should also be present in a person’s medical file only after other possible causes for symptoms have been ruled out.  

Headaches can be caused, for example, by brain injuries, cervical radiculopathy, and a host of neurological problems.  If an MRI or CT scan shows that some other impairment likely causes the headaches, Social Security will most likely evaluate the problem as a symptom of that impairment.  

When other causes for headaches have been ruled out, the Social Security Administration will evaluate the problem as that of migraine headaches.  

Similarity between headaches and seizures

In the past, many Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) have evaluated migraines under Listing 12.04 for Affective Disorder.  But a recent case out of an Iowa District Court indicates that ALJs should be evaluating such claims under Listing 11.03, the same listing under which they analyze epilepsy.  

POMS DI 24505.015 identifies listing 11.03 as being closely related to chronic migraine headaches, inasmuch as headaches can often result in an altered awareness, aura, and throbbing and severe pain.  

Listing 11.03 also outlines other issues that occur during seizures which are similar to issues of migraine headaches: the ability to document a typical headache event pattern, associated phenomena, symptoms occurring more frequently than once a week, and significant interference with daily activities.  

The Iowa Court found that an ALJ’s failure to consider whether the plaintiff’s migraine headaches equaled Listing 11.03 was a remandable error.  It also noted that even if the ALJ found that the plaintiff’s migraine headaches did not equal Listing 11.03, the ALJ should still consider the impact of the plaintiff’s migraine headaches on his mental work function, including how many days of work per month the plaintiff might miss due to symptoms of migraine headaches.  

The complexity of migraines

As with any impairment that is diagnosed primarily by ruling out other possible causes, migraine headaches pose a complex problem for applicants for whom migraines are the primary impairment.  

ALJs are less familiar with the law and regulations in evaluating migraine headaches, and you should definitely contact an experienced attorney to represent you in your claim if migraine headaches are preventing you from working consistently.  

Frequent migraine headaches often preclude people from being able to sustain work over time because they must miss more work than their employer will allow.  

If this is your situation, don’t hesitate to call the social security disability lawyers at Match & Farnsworth today for a free consultation about your Social Security Disability claim.  

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