As bad as an underlying medical condition may be in terms of limiting a person’s ability to function in the workplace, an often overlooked aspect of such cases is the impact of required medications and their side effects on a person’s work-related functioning. Even if an underlying medical problem is controlled by medication, a person taking certain medications may well still suffer significant functional limitations resulting from the side effects of the medications themselves. A disability attorney should consider these side effects because the Social Security Administration takes them into account.
Every person reacts to medication in different ways; however, certain powerful pain medications, muscle relaxers, and anti-anxiety medications are known to cause drowsiness, sedation, and fatigue. During our time as disability attorneys we’ve seen how this can be extreme enough to impair a person’s physical mobility, coordination, memory, concentration and cognitive function. Sometimes these side effects even result in a need to lay down and nap during the daytime. Obviously, the ability to focus, concentrate, remain awake and alert and to move about safely are all essential to just about any work.
Medications which cause extreme nausea, irritable bowel, or urinary frequency or urgency can also interfere with the ability to perform competitive work. For example, a person who takes a so-called “water pill” to treat high blood pressure or edema-related problems (swelling) may have to take frequent and urgent restroom breaks. In a competitive workplace, breaks are normally limited to three scheduled breaks per 8-hour shift (e.g., a morning break, a lunch break, and an afternoon break). Extra breaks or unscheduled breaks that occur regularly and interfere with productivity would preclude competitive work.
If you do experience side effects of your required medications, it is very important to document this by mentioning it frequently to your doctor. Sometimes the doctor will make adjustments to medications to help alleviate these reactions. Other times the doctor may advise this is an inevitable and unavoidable result of taking the required medication and is simply a necessary trade-off in order to enjoy the benefit of the medication in controlling other symptoms. Either way, it is important that a record is made of the side effects which you personally experience, and definitely tell your disability attorney.
When the Social Security Administration considers the impact of medications and their side effects, it is not sufficient to simply point out the known side effects which some people have with a particular medication. There must be actual evidence that you have experienced these adverse side effects personally. If there is not a consistent mention of these side effects in your medical records (or worse, no mention at all) then allegations about medication side effects and their impact on work-related function will not likely be taken very seriously.
When completing forms for the Social Security Administration related to your disability claim, the agency will often ask for lists of medications or updates to previously provided lists of medications. Usually, the forms allow space to note side effects of medications. Do not be in such a hurry to complete such paperwork that you fail to list such side effects to document them. Again, mentioning such side effects for the first time to your disability attorney or at a hearing is not very credible if no mention is made of such limitations throughout your case.
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