Endometriosis: Is it a Disability?

Endometriosis: Is it a Disability?

Endometriosis, a debilitating condition affecting millions of women globally, often prompts questions about its influence on daily life and work ability. This article provides an in-depth analysis of endometriosis, how it affects women’s work ability, and the possibility of qualifying for disability benefits.

Endometriosis is a medical condition that primarily affects women during their reproductive years, and is very prevalent, with over 80 million women diagnosed worldwide, typically between the ages of 20 and 40. Treatments such as surgery and medical management as well as physical therapy can alleviate some symptoms, but there is currently no definitive cure for the disease.

Endometriosis and Disability: An Intricate Relationship

The symptoms of endometriosis vary greatly among individuals. The most common symptom is pelvic pain, particularly during menstruation, sexual intercourse, bowel movements, or urination. Other symptoms include abdominal bloating, nausea, as well as infertility, among other symptoms. 

Endometriosis can significantly disrupt daily functioning due to associated symptoms such as pain, fatigue, and psychological distress especially during one’s menses (period) but is not always confined to that time of the month. Consequently, the disease might qualify as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in certain cases. However, it is important to know that the Social Security Administration (SSA) does not automatically classify endometriosis as a disability.

Endometriosis and Social Security Disability Benefits

Qualifying for Social Security disability benefits due to endometriosis is not straightforward. The SSA considers two primary factors when determining if an individual qualifies for SSDI (Social Security disability insurance) or SSI (Supplemental Security Income) disability benefits:

1. Does the individual’s condition meet (or equal) the requirements of a listed impairment?

2. If not, do the symptoms of endometriosis significantly interfere with the individual’s ability to function, to the point where they cannot perform any type of job safely?

Since endometriosis is not listed as a qualifying condition, sufferers cannot automatically meet the first criterion. However, they might still qualify for Social Security disability if their symptoms significantly impede their ability to work, what the SSA calls “substantial gainful activity,” or SGA.

How to Qualify for Social Security Disability for Endometriosis

To qualify for Social Security disability due to endometriosis, it must be demonstrated that the symptoms of the disease prevent the afflicted individual from performing their job. The SSA will then assess if there is any type of job that the individual can safely perform. This evaluation considers medical records, age, work experience and job skills, education, and residual functional capacity (the minimum work that can be expected from an individual).

Applying for Social Security Disability for Endometriosis

Applications for Social Security disability benefits can be made online, through a phone call to the Social Security’s national office, or in person at a local Social Security field office. Winning a disability claim for endometriosis can be challenging, but applicants can seek assistance from an experienced disability attorney or non-attorney representative.

Endometriosis and Employment: A Complex Scenario

While endometriosis can significantly impact an individual’s ability to work, it does not automatically lead to unemployment or early retirement. In fact, many women suffering from endometriosis are able to maintain their employment status, albeit with certain adjustments to accommodate their symptoms.

Work Ability and Endometriosis

A woman’s ability to work can be severely compromised by endometriosis, with the disease often linked to poor work ability at age 46. This decreased work ability can lead to increased absence from work due to health issues. However, despite the increased absenteeism, women with endometriosis often maintain an employment rate comparable to women without the disease. It makes you question why? 

Over the past few years, emphasis has been put on staying home if you are sick, as a safety measure for spreading disease, though many with endometriosis may not be able to afford days off of work either because financially they are unable, or there is worry about saying PTO for an unexpected turn of event such as a necessary surgery, or increased symptoms causing debilitating pain. So we suffer through expecting there to be worse days. Women in general, tend to minimize their own symptoms or question if they are “really that bad” as a result of societal influences.

Disability Retirement and Endometriosis

The emergence of disability retirement due to endometriosis is not common. Despite the debilitating symptoms of the disease, the risk of early retirement is not significantly higher for women with endometriosis compared to those without the condition. This finding is encouraging and demonstrates the resilience and determination of women battling this condition. Or, is it that those with endometriosis stay working longer because of the financial need and medical bills?

Conclusion

Endometriosis is a complex and debilitating condition that can significantly impact a woman’s ability to work. However, it does not inevitably lead to unemployment or early retirement per the literature, though that does not mean that those living with the condition are able to work feeling well or without worry about consequences of not working.  With appropriate medical treatment and workplace accommodations, we hope that not only can those with endometriosis keep working, but with a higher quality of life while working. 

Related Reading:

  1. Endometriosis Facts & Myths: Dispelling the Misconceptions
  2. Endometriosis Signs and Symptoms: Everything You Need to Know
  3. Endometriosis Signs and Symptoms: Everything You Need to Know

References:

  1. The Americans with Disabilities Act www.ada.gov
  2. Rossi, H., Uimari, O., Arffman, R., Vaaramo, E., Kujanpää, L., Ala‐Mursula, L., Piltonen, T.T., 2021. The association of endometriosis with work ability and work life participation in late forties and lifelong disability retirement up till age 52: A Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1966 study. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica 100, 1822–1829. 

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