People with disabilities are necessarily on medications to manage their symptoms, no matter what the medical or psychiatric symptoms. Often these medications have side effects that are nearly as troublesome as the original symptoms, but are necessary for lessening or containing the illness – think of chemotherapy. Many have side effects such as fatigue and confusion.
Side effects of prescribed medications are actual “symptoms” that must be taken into account in determining whether a claimant is disabled in a Social Security Disability claim.
It is very important for a claimant to tell a doctor all about all side-effects, at every appointment. This is not only so the doctor will know, but also because it is important that these symptoms be in the medical records. Judges look to the medical records to determine credibility of the claimant and it is very helpful if the record documents these issues, so it is not just the claimant saying it. Many computerized medical records have a check list of symptoms before a visit. These are better than nothing, but actual comment by the treating professional is more persuasive.
It is also important that claimants refer to these side effects when filling out disability and daily activity forms. Both in these forms and in doctor’s office, it is important to not only tell what the side effects are, but tell how those symptoms affect the person’s daily life. For example:
• Does fatigue create such a need for naps and rest that the patient has to lie down much of day?
• Do concentration and confusion problems create an inability to focus?
• Are memory problems an issue – for tracking appointments, managing finances, even grocery shopping? Detailed examples are very powerful.
• Are there digestive effects –is there diarrhea or a decrease/increase in appetite? Weight loss?
• Is nausea an issue?
It is also important for health care providers to include all symptoms and side effects in the ongoing records, because the SSA needs “credible medical evidence” upon which to base a decision. It is important that all symptoms and limitations, whether caused by disease or injury, or medication effects be in medical records. Anything that interferes with the ability to hold down a full time job should be documented carefully.