Slepian Smith, PLLC

Fibromyalgia: How does fibro fog impact the ability to work?

An important legal principle in a Social Security Disability claim is the requirement that in assessing disability, the Social Security Administration carefully consider the whole person, meaning all physical and mental impairments and their symptoms in combination. For a Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income claimant who has fibromyalgia, this comprehensive evaluation is crucial.

We have written in this space before about our legal work on behalf of SSDI claimants who suffer from this devastating and complex disease. One aspect that must be carefully documented in a claimant’s file is the impact of “fibro fog.” Not only does fibromyalgia cause severe tissue pain throughout the body, but also an array of cognitive, emotional and mental symptoms sometimes called fibro fog or brain fog.

The Arthritis Foundation provides a review of medical sources that speak to this difficult, cognitive aspect of fibromyalgia. Professionals point to sleep problems and brain irregularities associated with the disease as possibly contributing to the range of symptoms of brain fog, although research has not entirely clarified its causation.

Reported symptoms of fibro fog include:

  • Fatigue and sedation
  • Confusion
  • Concentration and focus problems
  • Short-term memory problems
  • Challenge with conversing and loss of words
  • Misplacing things
  • Distractibility
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Dizziness

Clearly, these symptoms can have a potentially devastating impact on job performance. If you feel sedated, cannot remember what you did a couple of minutes ago or lose focus on your tasks, whether your job involves labor, driving, professional judgment, customer service or any other vocational task, disability from fibromyalgia based on brain-fog symptoms alone is possible.

Consider further the devastating impact of fibro fog in combination with physical and other subjective aspects of the disease like chronic pain, stiffness, numbness and tingling, headaches, jaw pain, irritable bowel syndrome, restless leg syndrome, vision problems, nausea, flu symptoms, chest and breathing problems, skin issues and others.

An experienced lawyer who represents an SSDI or SSI claimant with fibromyalgia will help the client develop a medical record that shows robust evidence of the broad impact of the disease on the ability to work. With so many subjective symptoms, other evidence can also be important to support the claim such as statements from family members, friends and colleagues about their observations of the claimant’s behavior reflecting the illness. Do they nod off? Do they wince or cry from pain? Do they keep forgetting appointments or plans? Has it become difficult to carry on a conversation?

Legal counsel will also hold the SSA’s feet to the fire and remind the agency of its legal duty to consider all aspects of fibromyalgia together and the combined impact of serious symptoms on the ability to work.

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