Irritable Bowel Syndrome (also саllеd IBS, Spastic Colon, Mucous Colitis, Spastic Colitis, Nervous Stomach, or Irritable Colon) is the most common condition diagnosed by gastroenterologists. If you suffer from IBS, you’re familiar with how painful and difficult it can be to deal with. You may find your IBS impairing your ability to work – to the point of long term disability.
In order to get approved for long term disability benefits due to your IBS, it’s important to know how best to put forth your claim with your insurance company. Understanding how to substantiate your Irritable Bowel Syndrome long term disability claim will signficantly increase your chances of approval.
Here’s what you need to know before filing your IBS long-term disability claim.
Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) A Disability?
Whether or not your Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) qualifies as a disability depends almost entirely on how your symptoms affect your ability to work. An IBS diagnosis alone will not be enough to get your long term disability claim approved. Beyond a diagnosis, your insurance company will want to know your personal symptoms, their severity and frequency, and the ways in which they impair your job performance.
Disabling Symptoms of IBS
The symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be uncomfortable and distressing. An IBS flare-up can last anywhere from 2 to 4 days or longer, depending on the severity of your condition. Generally, IBS symptoms include:
- Cramping pains in the stomach
- Excess gas
- Painful diarrhea and/or constipation
- Mucus in your stools
- Swollen or blocked abdomen
- Feeling that you haven't completed your bowel movement
IBS symptoms can also impact different parts of the body. These additional symptoms can include:
- Frequent urination
- Halitosis, or bad breath
- Joint or muscle pain
- Persistent fatigue
- Irregular menses
Secondary Emotional Symptoms of IBS
Another factor to consider is the secondary emotional symptoms that may occur with IBS. IBS can be an embarrassing and stressful condition; you may experience significant anxiety and depression as a direct result.
If your emotional symptoms (i.e. anxiety, depression) develop due to being disabled by your IBS, these can be included to support your disability claim.
However, it will be vital for your doctor(s) to make clear to your insurance company that your emotional symptoms are secondary to and resulting from your IBS. Otherwise your insurance company may try to characterize your Crohn’s disease as a mental illness. In most long term disability insurance policies, benefits paid due to mental illness disabilities are limited to 12-24 months – meaning you would only receive benefits for up to two years at most, regardless of whether you remain totally disabled beyond that time.
Disability and Inability to Work Due to Irritable Bowel Syndrome
The symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be severe and disabling. However, the insurance company may not understand the nature and significance of your symptoms, or how they impact your job. To increase your chances of long-term disability claim approval, you can explain how and why each of your symptoms prevents you from performing your job duties.
For example, diarrhea or the need to move your bowels 3 or 4 times before you leave the house may cause you to be late for work constantly. As a result, you may miss an important meeting or telephone call with a big client. Once you get to work, your symptoms may force you to always be in close proximity to a bathroom in case of an IBS emergency.
Your unexpected, frequent trips to the bathroom may force you to put a telephone call on hold, ditch a meeting, or cut a presentation short. Worse yet, the prolonged, frequent bathroom visits can cause you to be "off task" for a significant portion of the workday. This productivity reduction can be particularly problematic if you are required to meet strict deadlines.
In addition, your diarrhea and frequent bowel movements may cause you to be up all night running back and forth to the bathroom, resulting in severe fatigue the following day. Alternatively, your constipation may cause severe abdominal pain and cramping, thereby reducing your ability to concentrate or focus on your job tasks. Your excess gas can not only be embarrassing but can also be distracting to co-workers – leading to further reduced productivity.
Your IBS may also result in mental health issues, such as an anxiety or depression. You may be so on edge about having constant bathroom access that you develop generalized anxiety, or become depressed due to the embarrassment, inconvenience, and chronic pain of your condition.
Fully understanding how your various symptoms specifically disrupt and impair you from performing your job will help you explain it to your insurance company.
How Do I Prove My IBS As A Disability?
There are different types of evidence your insurance company will consider when deciding your long term disability claim for IBS. This includes evidence supporting your diagnosis, symptoms, and how your condition prevents you from working in your occupation.
Proof of IBS Diagnosis
The insurance company will require proof of your Irritable Bowel Syndrome diagnosis for long-term disability. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to provide your diagnosis because your IBS symptoms can mimic other digestive disorders. Diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome is also frequently delayed because many patients are reluctant or too embarrassed to seek treatment.
When treatment is sought, there are no specific imaging or laboratory tests that can diagnose IBS. The first step is to talk to your doctor. Your doctor will likely take a complete medical history. For example, your doctor may ask:
- Have there been any changes in your bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation?
- Is there any pain or discomfort in your abdomen?
- How often do you feel bloated?
- What are your eating habits? High concentrations of milk fats, fried food, spicy food, junk food, etc. can cause patients to be more prone to IBS.
- Do you have a family history of Irritable Bowel Syndrome? If a person has a history of IBS in their family, he or she may be more prone to Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms.
- Do you take acne medications or painkillers? These medications can cause inflammation in the intestines, colon, and stomach, leading to Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms.
After taking your history and learning about your symptoms, your doctor will likely conduct a physical examination to check for abdominal bloating, listen to bowel sounds within your abdomen, and tap on your abdomen to check for tenderness or pain.
Then, your doctor may administer testing to rule out other causes or conditions that produce IBS-like symptoms. For instance, your doctor may recommend:
- Blood tests to look for lactose intolerance, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or celiac disease
- Stool tests to check for infections or issues involving nutritional absorption
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy to look for ulcers or polyps
- Colonoscopy to rule out conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease or cancer
- X-ray/CT scan to check for other conditions that may cause symptoms that mimic Irritable Bowel Syndrome, such as a cancerous growth or an intestinal blockage
If specific signs or symptoms suggest another condition, further testing may be warranted. Once other conditions are ruled out, your doctor can make the diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Your Doctor’s Support of Your IBS Disability is Key
When determining whether your Irritable Bowel Syndrome is disabling, the your insurance company will want the opinions of your treating doctor(s). Your doctor’s support is key.
A letter from your doctor outlining your IBS and its disabling impact on your ability to work can go a long way with your insurance company. Your doctor's report should detail the frequency and severity of your symptoms, any positive physical examination findings, their direct observations of you during office visits, and the specific restrictions and limitations that prevent you from working.
Writing A Personal Narrative of Your Disabling IBS Symptoms
While objective medical evidence carries the most weight with your insurance company, it can be extremely helpful to personally explain how your symptoms prevent you from performing your job. You can do this by preparing a written, detailed narrative for your insurance company.
Make sure your narrative addresses all of your symptoms by listing them separately. Because the symptoms of IBS can be episodic, your narrative should address the frequency of your symptoms, as well as the frequency and length of your trips to the bathroom, and the ways in which your various symptoms (physical, cognitive, and emotional) disrupt your ability to work.
Evidence of Appropriate Treatment for IBS
When evaluating your Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) long term disability claim, your insurance company will want to see that you’re receiving appropriate treatment. Your insurance company can easily use non-compliance and lack of appropriate care as a reason to deny your IBS long term disability claim.
Unfortunately, IBS has no cure – the goal of treatment is to help alleviate symptoms. Because doctors do not know what causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome, іt can be extremely challenging to treat. Some treatment methods include:
- Diet. Dietary factors often play a key role in causing IBS symptoms. For example, symptoms of constipation or diarrhea may be worse after consuming products such as chocolate, milk, or alcohol. Your doctor(s) may recommend eliminating certain foods to see whether they are triggers of your symptoms. Similarly, your doctor(s) may recommend increasing your fiber consumption to see if it has an effect on your IBS symptoms.
- Anxiety and Stress Reduction. Sometimes anxiety and stress can trigger the symptoms of IBS. Your doctor(s) may recommend avoiding unnecessary stress and/or mental health counseling for stress reduction techniques.
- Medications. Certain medications may be deemed appropriate by your doctor(s) to manage your symptoms. Examples include antispasmodic medications (to reduce abdominal cramping), laxatives (to relieve constipation), and tricyclic antidepressants (often help to reduce abdominal pain and cramping).
Make sure to follow all of the treatment recommendations of your doctors, and to check in with your doctors on a regular basis. Infrequent care and treatment can lead to your disability claim being denied – and potential benefit termination if you’ve already been approved.
A Long Term Disability Attorney Can Help With Your IBS Disability Claim
Just because Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is very common doesn’t mean it cannot be disabling. However, there are many hurdles when filing for long term disability for IBS. It is very difficult to diagnose, treatment can prove challenging, and your insurance company may be eager to write your IBS symptoms off as primarily a mental illness.
An experienced long term disability attorney can make all the difference. At Riemer Hess, we know what medical evidence your insurance company requires, how to outline your disabling symptoms, and ways to make sure your IBS is recognized as a physical disability. We can substantiate your IBS long term disability claim to significantly increase your chances of approval.
If you are suffering from IBS and need to file for long term disability, Riemer Hess can assess your situation, explain your legal rights and options, and answer any questions you have about long term disability insurance. To schedule your free consultation, call Riemer Hess LLC, Attorneys at Law, today at 212-297-0700.