Migraines aren't listed as an impairment in the Social Security Administration (SSA) Blue Book, so people who suffer from these often debilitating headaches may face an uphill battle when applying for disability benefits. However, with careful documentation of your condition and symptoms, you can strengthen your disability case and increase your chances of receiving benefits.
What Are Migraines?
Unlike a typical headache, a migraine is often accompanied by a wide range of additional symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Some migraines are preceded by an “aura”—a perceptual disturbance that usually manifests as bright spots or zigzag lines in the field of vision. Migraines can vary dramatically in both severity and duration, with sufferers experiencing mild to debilitating pain from 4 to 72 hours.
People who experience migraines infrequently know they can be painful and disruptive. However, for those who suffer with chronic migraines, the symptoms can be debilitating. “Migraineurs”—a word used to describe people who experience severe headaches—may find it difficult to perform basic daily tasks and enjoy normal activities, and they may be forced to lie down in a dark room for hours while they wait for the pain to pass.
While there are a variety of treatment options available for migraine sufferers, the effectiveness of those treatments can vary by person. Common treatments used to alleviate the symptoms of migraine headaches include pain and anti-nausea medicines. Doctors may also prescribe anti-seizure drugs, beta-blockers, antidepressants, or triptans to reduce the frequency of migraines or help manage their symptoms.
Documenting Your Condition
Because there is no test to confirm a migraine, proving that you suffer from chronic, debilitating migraine headaches can be challenging. However, medical records and personal journals that document the frequency and intensity of your migraines are helpful to support your claim.
Gather as much information from your physician as possible, including any notes your doctor may have written about the frequency and severity of your migraines, as well as the results of any medical tests that rule out other conditions. You will also need to provide a list of the medications and treatments you've tried for your migraines, as well as documentation of any ER visits related to your headaches.
However, a personal migraine journal may be one of the most powerful weapons to help your disability case. Whether provided by your doctor or notes you’ve written down in a regular notebook, a personal migraine journal should include the following information:
- The dates of each migraine
- The duration of each migraine
- The intensity of the pain experienced
- A description of the “aura,” if applicable
- Any other symptoms associated with the migraine
- Possible triggers you may have noticed
- Any medication (and the dosage taken) to relieve the migraine, as well as its effectiveness
The SSA may also ask your doctor to complete a questionnaire regarding your diagnosis of chronic migraines.
Qualifying for Social Security Disability Benefits
Before approving your application for disability benefits, the SSA will evaluate your medical records and history to determine if your headaches interfere with your ability to maintain employment. You will be required to prove that suffering from chronic migraines makes it difficult to hold down a job and complete basic, daily work activities. The SSA will likely consider work limitations, including if you have difficulty understanding instructions, problems concentrating, and the need for assistance to walk, stand, or lift items.
Experienced Legal Representation May Strengthen Your Claim
While you can apply for disability benefits on your own, having an experienced disability law attorney at your side to guide you through the process can be especially helpful. Contact the knowledgeable legal team at Keefe Disability Law to discuss your case, or request a copy of our free eBook, 7 Costly Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Social Security Disability Claim.