The Liver and its Functions
The liver is one of the largest organs in the body. A member of the digestive system, the liver lies in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen. The liver has many important functions, including the following:
-filtering the blood;
-making bile, a substance that helps digest fat and excrete certain fatty substances;
-processing and hooking fats to carriers (including cholesterol), and storing sugars, helping the body transport and save energy;
-making important proteins, such as most of those involved in blood clotting;
-metabolizing many medications, such as barbiturates, sedatives, and amphetamines;
-storing iron, copper, vitamins A and D, and several of the B vitamins;
-making important proteins like albumin that regulate fluid transport in the blood and kidneys; and
-helping break down and recycle red blood cells.
When we consider all that the liver does for us, making sure we seek and obtain treatment when the liver malfunctions is important.
Types of Liver Disease
There are many types of liver disease. Here, our discussion will be narrowed to address only cirrhosis and hepatitis. The Social Security Administration evaluates all chronic liver disease the same way whether it is caused by cirrhosis, hepatitis, or some other cause. Liver disease including hepatitis and cirrhosis is a common reason for applying for Social Security and/or Supplemental Security Income disability benefits. Cirrhosis, the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, is characterized by chronic damage to the liver. Scar tissue slowly replaces normal functioning liver tissue, progressively diminishing blood flow through the liver. As the normal liver tissue is lost, nutrients, hormones, drugs and poisons are not processed effectively by the liver. In addition, protein production and other substances produced by the liver are inhibited. Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver, resulting in liver cell damage and destruction, often caused by the introduction of a virus or toxin into the body.
Common signs and symptoms of liver disease include the following:
-jaundice, or yellowing of the skin
-loss of appetite
-unusual weight loss or weight gain
-abdominal pain in the upper right part of the stomach
-hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
-low grade fever
-muscle aches and pains
Treatments for liver disease are dependent upon the severity of the illness. While some physicians may pursue a more conservative route with bedrest and diet, some physicians may decide it is necessary to pursue a more invasive route to include conventional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation; chemoembolization (injecting cancer-killing drugs into the liver via a catheter) and other interventional cancer treatments; bile duct drainage via catheter; stenting (placement of a tiny mesh-metal tube to support the bile duct or a blood vessel in the liver); intravenous blood pressure-lowering medications; and liver transplant.
Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits
The degree to which liver disease impairs an individual varies from person to person. Therefore, the Social Security Administration has developed specific criteria, setting their standard by which those who suffer with liver disease may qualify for benefits. These criteria include the following: a history of a massive hemorrhage due to esophageal varices and shunt placement; a serum bilirubin of 2.5 mg. per deciliter or greater persisting for at least 5 months upon repeated examination; ascites, not attributable to other causes, demonstrated by abdominal paracentesis or associated with persistent hypoablbuminemia of 3.0 gm per deciliter or less; mental limitations, evaluated under the Social Security Administration’s regulations for evaluating mental conditions;
confirmation by liver biopsy and the person has at least one of the following: ascites, serum bilirubin of 2.5 mg/deciliter or greater on repeated examinations for 3 months; or hepatic cell necrosis or inflammation, persisting for at least 3 months, documented by repeated abnormalities of prothrombin time and enzymes indicative of hepatic dysfunction.
These criteria are addressed in much more detail by the Social Security Administration (SSA). However, keep in mind that the liver disease symptoms which meet the criteria for receipt of benefits may develop as a result of the disease process and/or the medications prescribed and used to treat the disease.
The medical evidence supporting one’s argument that he or she may meet these criteria, and therefore qualify for disability benefits, is crucial to obtaining a favorable finding. Physicians are considered experts in their field of practice, and their diagnosis, treatment and prognosis concerning a person’s condition are key to determining if someone who suffers with liver disease qualifies for Social Security Disability benefits.
About the Author:
Jonathan Ginsberg has been practicing Social Security Disability law in the Atlanta, Georgia area for over 20 years. His website can be found at www.atlantasocialsecuritydisabilityattorney.net