How Social Security Addresses Migraine Headaches

In order to qualify for Social Security Disability, you must establish that you have a "medically determinable impairment." In other words, you have to show that you have a diagnosable medical condition which is supported by "objective findings." An objective finding is something that a doctor can see without asking you, or elicited in a clinical examination. For example, if you have a disc herniation, it will likely appear on an MRI. A doctor doesn't even need to be in the same room with you to view the MRI, and observed a disc herniation. This is what an objective finding is. Another example of an objective finding is a positive test and a clinical examination. For example, if a doctor sees that your knee has excessive motion, and moves and directions that it should not, that is an objective sign that there's something wrong with your knee.

Migraine headaches present special challenges. A headache is more of a symptom than an actual medical condition. However, Social Security will consider migraine headaches, but once to see the following:

  • a diagnosis of a migraine headache should include a detailed description from a physician that includes all of the symptoms that go along with migraines, including the symptoms leading up to the headache event, auras, the headaches duration, intensity, and any other symptoms. Social Security will also want to know about the effects of treatment.
  • Social Security will want to see that a physician has ruled out other possible disorders that could be causing the headaches, like epilepsy or some finding on a brain MRI.
  • Other clinically acceptable indicators of migraine headaches include a headache that lasts from 4 to 72 hours either untreated or unsuccessfully treated. Social Security will also consider headaches that cause throbbing symptoms that are either moderate or severe. A severe headache will be considered something that prevents all activity. The Claimant will have to show a worsening of symptoms with any activity, and at least one other symptom during the headache, whether its nausea, vomiting, photop (intolerance to light)hobia, or phonophobia (intolerance to noise).

Social Security goes with the assumption that headaches will not prevent people from working for 12 months continuously, but there are always exceptions. It also considers the "impairment listing" for epilepsy as a basis of comparison to determine whether the headache is disabling. However, unlike the requirements for epileptic conditions, Social Security will not look at whether you are compliant with treatment, or consider whether you have sufficient medication in your bloodstream to control the headaches. This is because there really is no standard of care in the treatment of migraine headaches like there may be with epileptic conditions. Also, Social Security does not require evidence of another person observing the migraine event like it does with epilepsy. This is because unlike epileptic events, the person experiencing a migraine headache is typically aware that there going through an episode.

Migraine headaches, fibromyalgia, and other not easily diagnosed conditions present special challenges when seeking Social Security Disability benefits. This is because Social Security is always looking for some hard medical evidence that a condition exists. Sometimes, medical science has not  figured out a way of diagnosing certain conditions. We have a lot of experience dealing with these challenging cases, and if you have questions about a claim for disability involving migraine headaches, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, or other debilitating medical conditions, contact us at 503-325-8600. We can review your claim, and let you know where you stand.

Joe Di Bartolomeo
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