Nancy Withers, Michelle Parsons, and Maureen Nowak
Call Us: 515-271-8186

General Issues

Updated information from Social Security on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

  1. General.
    1. A person can establish that he or she has an MDI of CFS by providing appropriate evidence from an acceptable medical source. A licensed physician (a medical or osteopathic doctor) is the only acceptable medical source who can provide such evidence. We cannot rely upon the physician’s diagnosis alone. The evidence must document that the physician reviewed the person’s medical history and conducted a physical exam. We will review the physician’s treatment notes to see if they are consistent with the diagnosis of CFS; determine whether the person’s symptoms have improved, worsened, or remained stable; and establish the physician’s assessment of the person’s physical strength and functional abilities.
    2. We will find that a person has an MDI of CFS if a licensed physician diagnosed CFS, and this diagnosis is not inconsistent with the other evidence in the person’s case record. Under the CDC case definition, a physician can make the diagnosis of CFS based on a person’s reported symptoms alone after ruling out other possible causes for the person’s symptoms.  However, as mentioned, statutory and regulatory provisions require that, for evaluation of claims of disability under the Act, there must also be medical signs or laboratory findings before we may find that a person has an MDI of CFS. If we cannot find that the person has an MDI of CFS but there is evidence of another MDI, we will not evaluate the impairment under this SSR. Instead, we will evaluate it under the rules that apply for that impairment.
  2. Medical signs. For the purposes of Social Security disability evaluation, one or more of the following medical signs clinically documented over a period of at least 6 consecutive months help establish the existence of an MDI of CFS:
    • Palpably swollen or tender lymph nodes on physical examination;
    • Nonexudative pharyngitis;
    • Persistent, reproducible muscle tenderness on repeated examinations, including the presence of positive tender points; or
    • Any other medical signs that are consistent with medically accepted clinical practice and are consistent with the other evidence in the case record. For example, the CCC and ICC explain that an acute infectious inflammatory event may precede the onset of CFS, and that other medical signs may be present, including the following:
      • Frequent viral infections with prolonged recovery;
      • Sinusitis;
      • Ataxia;
      • Extreme pallor; and
      • Pronounced weight change.
  3. Laboratory findings. At this time, we cannot identify specific laboratory findings that are widely accepted as being associated with CFS. However, the absence of a definitive test does not preclude our reliance upon certain laboratory findings to establish the existence of an MDI in people with CFS. While standard laboratory test results in the normal range are characteristic for many people with CFS, and they should not be relied upon to the exclusion of all other clinical evidence in decisions regarding the presence and severity of an MDI, the following laboratory findings establish the existence of an MDI in people with CFS:
    • An elevated antibody titer to Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) capsid antigen equal to or greater than 1:5120, or early antigen equal to or greater than 1:640;
    • An abnormal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scan;
    • Neurally mediated hypotension as shown by tilt table testing or another clinically accepted form of testing; or
    • Any other laboratory findings that are consistent with medically accepted clinical practice and are consistent with the other evidence in the case record (for example, an abnormal exercise stress test or abnormal sleep studies, appropriately evaluated and consistent with the other evidence in the case record).
  4. Additional signs and laboratory findings. Because of the ongoing research into the etiology and manifestations of CFS, the medical criteria discussed above are only examples of physical and mental signs and laboratory findings that can help us establish the existence of an MDI; they are not all-inclusive. As medical research advances regarding CFS, we may discover additional signs and laboratory findings to establish that people have an MDI of CFS. For example, scientific studies now suggest there may be subsets of CFS with different causes, including viruses such as Human Herpesvirus 6. Thus, we may document the existence of CFS with medical signs and laboratory findings other than those listed above provided such evidence is consistent with medically accepted clinical practice, and is consistent with the other evidence in the case record.
  5. Mental limitations. Some people with CFS report ongoing problems with short-term memory, information processing, visual-spatial difficulties, comprehension, concentration, speech, word-finding, calculation, and other symptoms suggesting persistent neurocognitive impairment. When ongoing deficits in these areas have been documented by mental status examination or psychological testing, such findings may constitute medical signs or (in the case of psychological testing) laboratory findings that establish the presence of an MDI. When medical signs or laboratory findings suggest a persistent neurological impairment or other mental problems, and these signs or findings are appropriately documented in the medical record, we may find that the person has an MDI.

Comments are closed.