June is Myasthenia Gravis Awareness Month. Myasthenia gravis (MG) is an autoimmune neuromuscular disorder characterized by voluntary muscle weakness that fluctuates from location to location. Like some other autoimmune diseases, MG causes the immune system of a person to make antibodies that attack rather than defend. In practical terms, antibodies in people with MG attack receptor sites in muscles that are supposed to receive signals from the brain.
Common symptoms of MG include:
- Drooping eyelid
- Vision problems, especially blurred or double vision
- Slurred speech
- Swallowing and chewing difficulties
- Leg and arm weakness
- Muscle fatigue
- Breathing problems
A diagnosis of MG is made in several ways. There are blood tests that check for abnormal antibodies. There are tests conducted on an outpatient basis that look for increasing muscle weakness with activity (and improvement with rest) and electromyography that analyzes nerve response patterns.
Medications to treat MG include anticholinesterase agents that help activate muscle receptor sites. Corticosteroids such as prednisone and immunosuppressants may be used to reduce the abnormal activity of the immune system. Other treatments include surgical removal of the thymus gland and blood plasma exchange (plasmaphoresis) to remove abnormal antibodies.
Most patients respond well to treatment and are able to lead relatively normal lives. However, when treatments are not effective, MG patients may be unable to work because of communication or mobility problems. If this happens, individuals may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.
MG is listed in the Social Security listing of impairments (the Blue Book) that may qualify a worker for disability benefits). To meet the requirements of the listing, an individual must prove that in addition to having a medical diagnosis of MG, he or she has problems with talking, swallowing or breathing (known as bulbar signs) or weakness in arms or legs that occurs very quickly after use or does not recover within the usual time period. Medical evidence supporting a diagnosis can include testing on electrical impulse machines, muscle biopsies and physical endurance tests.
MG that does not respond well to treatment can cause speech and vision problems that could make doing many jobs difficult or impossible. This is particularly true for jobs that involve working with machinery, driving and talking. Many patients with MG can do some work, but require frequent rest breaks that limit their productivity, which could also qualify workers for SSD benefits.
Because some people with MG can work a little, proving eligibility for SSD benefits can be challenging. That is why it is so important to have experienced advocacy at your side - the kind of advocacy you can receive from Binder & Binder®, America's most successful Social Security Disability advocates. If you have a diagnosis of MG and can no longer work, contact them to learn how they can help with your SSD benefit application or appeal.