Liver cirrhosisCirrhosis is significant and often permanent liver scarring caused by late-stage liver diseases, complications, and other related conditions. The medical problems that lead to cirrhosis can cause debilitating symptoms – and the most severe form of scarring may trigger liver failure that's life-threatening or even fatal. If you're unable to work or have undergone a liver transplant due to advanced cirrhosis, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Here's what you need to know about the Social Security Administration's (SSA) complex application process and how working with a knowledgeable and experienced Social Security disability lawyer may improve your chances of approval.

Living and Working With Cirrhosis 

Cirrhosis often has no noticeable symptoms in its earliest stages. However, as the scarring becomes more extensive and liver function decreases, people with cirrhosis can experience a wide range of signs and symptoms that can make holding a job difficult, if not impossible.

Cirrhosis Symptoms 

  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea 
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, or feet
  • Jaundice (yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes)
  • Accumulated fluid in the abdomen 
  • Confusion, drowsiness, difficulty thinking, memory loss, slurred speech, personality changes, or unresponsiveness (hepatic encephalopathy)

Cirrhosis can also cause devastating complications, such as portal hypertension (increased pressure in the vessel that carries blood from digestive organs to the liver), internal bleeding, malnutrition, infections and difficulty fighting them, enlarged or overactive spleen, coma, liver cancer, and liver failure.

Qualifying for SSDI

Just being diagnosed with cirrhosis isn't enough to qualify you for SSDI. You must have a medically determinable impairment (MDI) that's severe enough to prevent you from working (or participating in substantial gainful activity) for at least 12 months or is expected to be fatal. Additionally, if your cirrhosis requires a liver transplant, you qualify for SSDI for one year after the procedure. 

The SSA uses criteria found in its Blue Book Listing of Impairments to determine whether you have an MDI. Cirrhosis is addressed in Section 5.05, which covers chronic liver diseases. However, because the liver plays a role in numerous vital bodily functions, you may also qualify based on listings for symptoms such as significant weight loss (Section 5.08). If you don't meet the criteria for a listing in the Blue Book, you can complete a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment to prove that the symptoms of your cirrhosis are as disabling as a qualifying condition.

Applying for Benefits

If you have severe cirrhosis that prevents work or substantially gainful employment, you may expect your SSDI application to be approved without issue. Unfortunately, the SSA uses a five-step application process that's infamously complicated. The vast majority of applicants – roughly 67 percent – are denied in the initial stage. 

Being denied the benefits you need and deserve can be frustrating. Working with a skilled disability attorney when preparing your application can help ensure that the paperwork is completed correctly and that you submit sufficient medical evidence from acceptable medical sources (AMS). Providing clear medical evidence is essential to proving the severity of your condition to the SSA case examiner and medical consultant reviewing your SSDI claim.

Helpful Medical Evidence 

  • Full liver panel blood tests
  • Coagulation studies
  • Imaging tests, such as X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, or ultrasounds
  • Liver biopsy results
  • Records reflecting cirrhosis-related hospitalizations and blood transfusions
  • Records documenting fluid retention in the lungs or abdomen (and whether it required draining)
  • Evidence of impacts on other organs or body systems
  • Information about your past and current treatments
  • Documentation related to the condition's effect on your quality of life, and ability to work and complete basic self-care tasks

Get Help With Your SSDI Claim

Applying for SSDI for cirrhosis? Let Keefe Disability Law's highly-skilled Boston attorneys help. Complete our online contact form or call 508-283-5500 (toll-free 888-904-6847) to request a free initial consultation. For more information, request our free guide, 7 Costly Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Social Security Disability Claim.

Are You Looking for a Social Security Disability Attorney in Boston, MA?

If you are looking to apply for social security disability, you need to speak with an experienced social security disability lawyer as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Natick Office directly at 888.904.6847 to schedule your free consultation.


John L. Keefe
Connect with me
Founding Attorney, Massachusetts Social Security Disability Lawyer