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Severe Impairments: Why Symptoms Alone Are Not Enough

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Back pain, widespread joint pain, fatigue, feeling sad, irritable or anxious are symptoms that many Mainers experience on a daily basis. These symptoms may be interfering with your daily activities, your relationships with your family and friends, and preventing you from focusing or making it to your job on a daily basis. Keep reading to find out why you will need to see a doctor for an examination and diagnosis of your symptoms if you plan to pursue a claim for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits or Supplemental Security Income.

At the second step of Social Security’s five step sequential evaluation of disability, the SSA will determine whether your medical impairment is “severe” under the SSA program rules. If your medical condition(s) meet this basic test, the SSA will then consider how these condition(s) affect your day-to-day functioning. The starting point of this evaluation is to have medical evidence documenting not just the symptoms you are experiencing, but a medical condition that is reasonably causing these symptoms. The diagnosis of your medical impairment must be confirmed by a medical doctor and/or medically acceptable imaging (e.g., x-ray, MRI, CT scan) and laboratory testing (e.g., blood work, biopsy, stress test). The SSA can not find you to be disabled on the basis of symptoms alone when there has been no diagnosis of a medical condition by an acceptable medical professional.

Only once a medical condition has been appropriately diagnosed and the symptoms reasonably likely to be caused by the impairment(s) will the SSA consider whether the impairment(s) and resulting symptoms cause exertional (strength activities) or non-exertional (nonstrength activities) limitations. To continue past Step 2, your medical impairment(s) and resulting symptoms must cause more than a minimal limitation upon your ability to perform basic work activities. Remember, without an appropriate diagnosis, the SSA will not consider the symptoms that are affecting you on a daily basis. It is important to see a doctor (MD or DO) or psychologist as soon as possible for a full evaluation of your symptoms for appropriate testing, diagnosis, and treatment. Office visits notes, imaging or operative reports, and laboratory findings are the best evidence to document your medical impairments and the relationship between your symptoms and these medical conditions.