Make no mistake about it—Lyme disease is present in Texas and affecting Texans. While many local doctors are still unfamiliar with this tick-borne illness, the bacteria which causes Lyme disease was first found in Texas in 1984 and is now endemic to Texas, according to the Texas Lyme Disease Association.
The effects of this serious illness can be devastating—especially if a patient is not diagnosed and treated promptly. Accordingly, it is important for all Texans to know more about the cause, symptoms, treatment, and potential impacts of the disease on your daily life. You should also understand whether Social Security disability may be an option if you become disabled from it.
Lyme Disease Has a Known Cause
Lyme disease is spread through the bite of black-legged ticks that are infected with Borrelia burgdorferi. While, historically, these ticks were primarily in the northern regions of the United States, recent research has confirmed their existence in Texas and tests indicate that many of the black-legged ticks here do carry the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria and can cause Lyme disease.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
The symptoms of Lyme disease often mimic other medical conditions. Accordingly, it is important to tell your doctor if you were bitten by a tick or if you were anywhere where a tick bite may have been likely. It is also important to ask your doctor if you should be tested for Lyme disease if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Muscle and joint aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Facial paralysis
- Neck stiffness
- Heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat
- Dizziness or shortness of breath
- Nerve pain
- Inflammation of the brain or spinal cord
- Shooting pain, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet
- Short term memory problems
Lyme disease is typically diagnosed based on your symptoms and the results of a blood test.
Treatment for Lyme Disease
The first line of treatment for Lyme disease is typically oral antibiotics. Oral antibiotics such as doxycycline are most effective when they are given quickly after a person contracts the disease. However, some diagnoses are delayed and treatment is ineffective. If symptoms of the condition last for six months or more, a person has what is known as “chronic Lyme disease” or “post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.” At this point, antibiotics may be ineffective and patients may need to be treated as if they have chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, or another condition.
How Lyme Disease Can Impact Your Daily Life
If your condition was caught early and you were otherwise healthy, you may be temporarily unable to work. The course of antibiotics can be uncomfortable and unpleasant and it may take several weeks or more for the medication to work. However, you may soon feel better and get back to your daily activities.
The same is not true if you suffer from post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, however. If you suffer from this condition, you may experience:
- Heart problems
- Brain and nervous system problems
- Significant muscle and joint pain
- Other complications
Just one of these issues can leave you too sick to work.
Are You Eligible for Social Security Disability?
A Lyme disease diagnosis will not in and of itself make you eligible for Social Security disability. Instead, you are going to have to prove that you qualify for Social Security disability benefits. Currently, the Listing of Impairments does not include a specific listing for Lyme disease. Accordingly, in order to qualify for benefits, you are going to have to prove that:
- One of your symptoms is significant enough to meet a specific listing in the Listing of Impairments. For example, if you have arthritis because of your Lyme disease, you may meet the eligibility requirement in Section 14.09, if you have heart problems, you may meet a cardiovascular listing in Section 4.00, or if you have cognitive issues, you may meet the requirements in Section 12.00.
- Your symptoms are so severe that you are unable to work. More specifically, your residual functional capacity (or your ability to work) makes you unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (or to work enough to make the minimum amount established as substantial gainful activity in a given year).
Having Lyme disease is not easy, getting diagnosed in Texas may be difficult, and getting the Social Security disability benefits you deserve may be challenging. However, it is important to fight for your right to recover the benefits you’ve earned. Accordingly, we encourage you to reach out to us if you are unable to work because of Lyme disease. We will work hard to get you your fair benefits. Please contact us directly to schedule your initial consultation today.
by Paul B. Burkhalter Managing Partner of Morgan & Weisbrod, Board Certified in Social Security Disability Law.