Short bowel syndrome (SBS), also known as short gut syndrome, is a relatively rare medical condition when your body can’t absorb enough nutrients from the food you eat because there isn’t enough small intestine. This condition can make it difficult or impossible to hold a full-time job. Fortunately, people who suffer from debilitating SBS are not without options. The Social Security Administration (SSA) includes SBS in its “Blue Book” Listing of Impairments and recognizes that this condition is serious enough to prevent patients from engaging in substantial gainful activity—a key component the SSA examines closely when determining whether or not to award Social Security (SS) disability benefits.
If your severe SBS prevents you from working, you may qualify to receive SS benefits. Learning more about this disability can help you decide if applying for SS disability is the right course of action.
What Is Short Bowel Syndrome?
Short bowel syndrome is a complex condition that usually occurs in individuals who have had at least half of their small intestine—or part or all of their large intestine—surgically removed. People who have poor intestinal motility, or whose small intestine has sustained significant damage, may also suffer from SBS. Because the body absorbs most of its nutrients through the small intestine, SBS can dramatically reduce a person's ability to absorb fluids, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, and trace elements and, in some case, may require intravenous feeding (also known as parenteral nutrition) via a central venous catheter. Though rare, the condition affects as many as 20,000 people in the United States, according to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America.
Understanding What Causes SBS
Doctors sometimes have to surgically remove portions of the bowel in order to treat serious intestinal conditions such as Crohn's disease, Volvulus (a twisted intestine that results in loss of circulation and tissue death), or malignant or benign tumors. This type of surgery may also be necessary after a severe injury or trauma to the small intestine. In very rare cases, SBS may be the result of a congenital birth defect.
Symptoms Associated With SBS
SBS can cause an array of undesirable symptoms, the severity of which can vary depending on how well the small intestine is functioning. These symptoms may make it difficult to hold a job or develop or maintain social relationships. Common symptoms associated with short bowel syndrome include:
- Abdominal pain
- Steatorrhea (oily, foul-smelling stools caused by the malabsorption of fats)
- Unexplained weight loss
- Complications of malnutrition (including anemia, bruising, muscle spasms, and reduced blood clotting)
- Emotional difficulties
Applying for SS Disability
Even though SBS is listed as one of the SSA's Blue Book conditions, an SBS diagnosis doesn't automatically guarantee that a person will be approved for benefits. In order to meet the Blue Book criteria for total disability, a person has to have had more than half of his bowel removed, resulting in the need for daily parenteral nutrition via a central venous catheter.
If your SBS doesn't meet this criteria, you may still be eligible for SS benefits if you can show that your condition is so debilitating that it prevents you from working. Having the doctor who treats your SBS complete a residual functional capacity (RFC) form discussing your diagnosis and how your symptoms affect your ability to work can help strengthen your claim.
We Can Help
If you suffer from debilitating SBS that prevents substantial gainful activity, you may qualify to receive SS disability. However, applying for benefits can be a lengthy and complex process. An experienced disability attorney can help simplify that process by working with you to ensure that your application contains all the necessary information before you submit it, saving you valuable time and effort. Contact the knowledgeable attorneys at Keefe Disability Law for a free case evaluation, and let us guide you step by step. We're ready to help you pursue any and all benefits you may deserve.