Addison’s disease, or adrenal insufficiency, is a relatively unknown disorder — even though President John F. Kennedy suffered from the condition — that can be quite disabling.

In many cases, the disease sneaks up on its victims because its primary symptom is an overwhelming sense of fatigue. Eventually, however, the victim may develop the following problems:

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Muscle, joint and abdominal pain
  • Irritability, depression and other behavioral issues
  • Low blood sugar or reactive hypoglycemia
  • Low blood pressure, to the point where fainting occurs
  • Salt cravings
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Darkened skin around scars or creases (like the knuckles or inside of your elbows)

The major problem with adrenal failure is that the victim can easily fall into a medical crisis. Low blood pressure, severe weakness, shooting pain down the legs, severe vomiting and sudden confusion can require immediate medical care.

So, can Addison’s disease really be disabling?

In fact, yes. The treatment for the disease hasn’t changed significantly since Kennedy’s day. Cortisol supplements or injections are the only treatment, along with medication designed to control the victim’s blood pressure.

The condition can be difficult to manage because cortisol is what helps the human body manage stress. Illness, injury, psychological stress, work stress and physical stress alike can cause an Addison’s crisis very easily — and make it very difficult for the victim to recover his or her strength for days. Also, the general fatigue and disorientation that a sufferer has can make holding a full-time schedule impossible. It can also make it difficult to recall complex material once the fatigue sets in.

When filing for Social Security Disability benefits due to Addison’s disease, it’s important to document the number of episodes of adrenal insufficiency the victim tends to suffer over any given period. It is also important to focus on how the symptoms of the disease directly affect the victim’s ability to function at work.

For guidance, it often helps to have a Social Security Disability attorney help prepare an application for benefits — especially if you have a rare disorder like Addison’s.