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Keefe Disability Law
Social Security Disability & Supplemental Security Income
Toll Free 888-904-6847
Call 508-283-5500
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SSDI and Cor Pulmonale: Respiratory Disorder or Heart Disease?

Is cor pulmonale a heart disease or a respiratory disorder?

The heart and lungs depend on each other. They work together to control the flow of oxygen through the body. If something goes seriously wrong with the lungs, it will eventually cause problems in the heart. Cor pulmonale is an example. 

Cor pulmonale is a complication of respiratory diseases such as emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or sleep apnea. It occurs when an increase in blood pressure in the pulmonary artery, the vessel that carries blood from the heart to the lungs, causes enlargement and, eventually, failure of the right side of the heart. 

Normally, the left side of the heart uses high pressure to pump blood to the body while the right side of the heart uses low pressure to pump blood through the lungs. When a medical condition causes high blood pressure within the blood vessels of the lungs, the right side of the heart must pump at a higher pressure. This causes strain on the right side of the heart. When the heart fails to work against the abnormally high pressure, it creates the condition known as cor pulmonale. 

Many chronic lung diseases can lead to cor pulmonale, including:

  • Central sleep apnea
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Chronic thromboembolic pulmonary disease
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Interstitial lung disease
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Pulmonary hypertension

The symptoms of cor pulmonale include symptoms of the underlying lung disease. They include:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Inability to exercise
  • Coughing and wheezing 
  • Swelling of the feet or ankles
  • Enlarged liver
  • Blue coloring of the skin
  • Pronounced neck veins 

There is no cure for cor pulmonale. Treatment may improve symptoms and increase survival time. Complications include heart failure and fluid retention that can cause shortness of breath, shock and, in some cases, death. 

If you file for Social Security disability benefits for cor pulmonale, the Social Security administration will consider both your cor pulmonale and your underlying respiratory disease. You will need a copy of your medical records, including treatment, which you will need to show as proof that you followed your doctor’s orders. You should also provide the results of all medical tests, especially a spirogram test. If you have had a heart catheterization, you should provide the results.

The guidelines for approving SSDI for cor pulmonale are listed in Section 3.09 of the Blue Book listing of qualifying conditions. It is also mentioned under the cardiovascular listing. To meet the qualification, you must meet the criteria for pulmonary artery pressure and decreased blood oxygen pressure. However, evidence of other medical problems will also help your case.

Do you have questions about the SSDI application process? Get a free copy of Boston disability attorney John Keefe’s book, Unlocking the Mystery: The Essential Guide for Navigating the Social Security Disability Claims Process. If you need additional assistance, please call Keefe Disability Law at 888-904-6847 and ask to schedule a free consultation with a Massachusetts SSDI attorney.


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