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April was Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) awareness month. The observation is intended to educate people about the symptoms and treatment of IBS, a condition can cause alternating constipation and diarrhea, bloating, cramping and other gastrointestinal symptoms.

Although the cause of IBS is not fully known, there are some clues. More women than men develop the illness, leading some to believe that fluctuating hormone levels are the cause. Many people with IBS have excessive intestinal bacteria in their digestive systems, and antibacterial medications are often used to treat IBS. Another apparent cause is stress and anxiety, and another type of treatment involves anti-anxiety medications and counselling to help sufferers deal with stress.

Although many people can successfully manage the symptoms of IBS, others become quite disabled and even homebound because of the condition. This makes it difficult to work. Many people who continue to work while living with IBS often have reduced productivity because they are unable to focus due to the pain and need to take frequent bathroom breaks.

Although IBS is not listed as a specific condition by the Social Security Administration (SSA), it may be possible to obtain Social Security Disability benefits if IBS makes it impossible to work. However, it is challenging. You must be able to document that your IBS symptoms have lasted for at least 12 months. This is often difficult, because the symptoms of the condition are often intermittent, stopping for a while and then starting up again.

However, it is possible for someone who has worked for the required amount of time and paid into the system to get SSD benefits under the digestive disorders listed in section 5 of the SSA Blue Book, the list of impairments and the criteria required to receive benefits. Demonstrating reduced productivity is important, as are things like absenteeism and use of sick leave. To prove that your IBS is disabling, you will need full medical records, test results and treatment and work history.

Because obtaining SSD benefits when IBS prevents you from working can be challenging, it is important to have the assistance of an advocate throughout the process. This will ensure that your claim and appeal, if needed, are done correctly. If Irritable Bowel Syndrome prevents you from working, do what so many others have done: Call Binder & Binder®, America's most successful Social Security Disability advocates. Tell them your story and find out how they can help

Source: International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, "Other frequently asked questions about IBS," Jan. 29, 2014.

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