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By Diana Wade
Disability Advocate 

Can Connective Tissue Disease qualify for Social Security Disability?

Ask the Advocate


What exactly is connective tissue disease? Connective tissue diseases are referred to as a group of medical diseases. A connective tissue disease has a primary target of the connective tissues of the body. The connective tissues are the structural portions of our body that essentially hold the body together. These tissues form a framework for the body.

Because many connective tissue diseases feature abnormal immune system activity with inflammation, the disease targets one’s own body tissues (autoimmunity). Whatever the feature, it can be a very debilitating condition that can affect every aspect of an individual’s life.

The autoimmune connective tissue diseases include systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, polymyositis, and dermatomyositis. These are considered classic connective tissue diseases. Each of these diseases has a “classic” presentation with typical findings that doctors can recognize during an examination. Each also has various typical blood test abnormalities and a variety of abnormal antibodies that are commonly found in blood. However, each of these diseases can evolve slowly or rapidly from very subtle abnormalities before demonstrating the classic features that help in the diagnosis.

Sometimes, in the early stages, doctors simply refer to the “undifferentiated” condition as a collagen vascular disease or undifferentiated connective tissue disease (UCTD) until more defined symptoms appear; this can include fibromyalgia. The change into a more definable disease may occur over years or never happen. Furthermore, the undifferentiated features may, themselves, disappear at which point there is no disease at all.

When more than one autoimmune connective tissue disease is present in the same person their condition is often referred to as an “overlap” syndrome of connective tissue disease. One particular overlap syndrome is characterized by features of scleroderma, lupus, and polymyositis and is referred to as mixed connective tissue disease (MCTD), also known as Sharp’s syndrome.

Is it possible to get Social Security disability on the basis of connective tissue disease? Yes, when your disease process has been severely limiting, there are a couple of ways you can be approved for Social Security disability on the basis of connective tissue diseases.

First, Social Security has a disability listing for connective tissue diseases in its disability evaluation handbook. If you meet this Listing, your disability claim will be approved.

14.06 (from the handbook Undifferentiated and mixed connective tissue disease.

a. General. This listing includes syndromes with clinical and immunologic features of several autoimmune disorders, but which do not satisfy the criteria for any of the specific disorders described. For example, you may have clinical features of SLE and systemic vasculitis, and the serologic (blood test) findings of rheumatoid arthritis.

b. Documentation of undifferentiated and mixed connective tissue disease. Undifferentiated connective tissue disease is diagnosed when clinical features and serologic (blood test) findings, such as rheumatoid factor or antinuclear antibody (consistent with an autoimmune disorder) are present but do not satisfy the criteria for a specific disease. Mixed connective tissue disease (MCTD) is diagnosed when clinical features and serologic findings of two or more autoimmune diseases overlap.) WITH

A. Involvement of two or more organs/body systems, with:

1. One of the organs/body systems involved to at least a moderate level of severity; and

2. At least two of the constitutional symptoms or signs (severe fatigue, fever, malaise, or involuntary weight loss).


B. Repeated manifestations of undifferentiated or mixed connective disease, with at least two of the constitutional symptoms or signs (severe fatigue, fever, malaise, or involuntary weight loss) and one of the following at the marked level:

1. Limitation of activities of daily living.

2. Limitation in maintaining social functioning.

3. Limitation in completing tasks in a timely manner due to deficiencies in concentration, persistence, or pace.

Second, if you don’t meet the criteria of the disability listing, you may still be approved for Social Security disability if your disease severely limits you in other ways. In fact, the majority of claims are approved not by meeting the requirements of a listing but because of symptoms and limitations caused by the disease (see below). Social Security will examine a claimant’s medical history and work history and may conclude that, based on functional limitations, age, education, and work skills, the claimant doesn’t possess the ability to return to their past work and can’t transition to less demanding work.

Symptoms and Limitations

A common symptom of a connective tissue disease is nonspecific fatigue. Depending on which connective tissue disease is present, and how active it is, a wide variety of symptoms may occur. These include fevers, muscle and joint pain and stiffness, weakness, and many other symptoms.


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