In order to receive disability benefits an adult must suffer from a medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments that is severe enough to prevent them from engaging in work activity. The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines a medically determinable impairment as "an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. A physical or mental impairment must be established by medical evidence consisting of signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings-not only by the individual's statement of symptoms."
Most of us have a long list of impairments such as hypertension, high cholesterol, or diabetes. These types of impairments are easily proved as "medically determinable" as they are only diagnosed based on clinical or laboratory testing. Unfortunately, not all conditions are so black and white.
For instance, one of the most common impairments endorsed by claimants is fibromyalgia. Diagnosing fibromyalgia can be difficult and is often based on subjective complaints. As a result SSA released a ruling that outlines the necessary findings that must be present in the medical record for fibromyalgia to be considered a medically determinable impairment (SSR 12-2p). Without the findings as outlined in this ruling, a diagnosis of fibromyalgia may not be considered a medically determinable impairment. Another common issue arises when a claimant suffers abdominal pain for which no diagnosis has been made. Abdominal pain can be severe and extremely debilitating, and its cause can elude doctors for months or even years. Unfortunately, if your doctor has been unable to find a source for your abdominal pain and make a diagnosis it will likely be found that you do not have a medically determinable impairment.
In order to make sure your impairments are medically determinable under the Social Security rules, it is imperative that you seek appropriate treatment including regular visits with primary care and referrals to specialists as necessary. Briefly address your chronic impairments and symptoms with your doctor at every visit, regardless of the reason for the visit. If you suffer from arthritis or other conditions which can be seen on x-ray or MRI, request that one be performed. Findings of disability must rest on a foundation of evidence, and that evidence can only be obtained through regular and appropriate medical treatment.