A person with type 2 diabetes may be able to claim two types of disability benefits: Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), for people who have a work history, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which does not require a previous work history.

Type 2 diabetes results in body cells resisting the effects of insulin, which leads to impairments in a person’s metabolism. Such impairments can lead to diabetes-related complications, some of which may affect a person’s ability to work.

In this article, we outline some potential complications of diabetes. We also provide information on how a person with type 2 diabetes may qualify for disability benefits, the types of benefits they may be entitled to, how to apply, and how to appeal a decision. Finally, we provide tips on how to talk to an employer about a disability.

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Type 2 diabetes can cause complications that may affect a person’s ability to work, either in the short term or the longer term. Some examples include:


Hyperglycemia is the medical term for abnormally high blood glucose levels. This condition can result in potentially serious complications, such as diabetic ketoacidosis and hyperosmolar hyperglycemic syndrome.

Diabetic ketoacidosis

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a serious complication of diabetes. In DKA, a lack of insulin causes the body to break down fat for energy. This process triggers the release of harmful substances called ketones, which accumulate in the blood.

The symptoms of DKA include:

A person with DKA may require hospitalization to treat or prevent complications of DKA. These complications may include:

Hyperosmolar hyperglycemic syndrome

Hyperosmolar hyperglycemic syndrome is a serious complication of diabetes, in which chronically high blood glucose levels trigger severe dehydration. This happens because excess sugar passes into the urine, causing a person to urinate more frequently.

The symptoms of HHS may include:

  • frequent urination
  • excessive thirst
  • dry skin
  • nausea
  • disorientation
  • drowsiness
  • loss of consciousness

HHS is a potentially life threatening complication that requires urgent treatment in a hospital setting.

Chronic hyperglycemia

Chronic hyperglycemia may occur in people who have difficulty controlling their blood glucose levels. The condition may cause complications, such as:

  • anxiety and depression
  • impairments in nerve function, which may present as:
    • pain and numbness in the limbs
    • digestive issues
    • heart arrhythmias
    • cognitive impairments
  • an increase in treatment-resistant infections
  • amputation of a limb due to infection or disease


Hypoglycemia is the medical term for abnormally low blood glucose levels. People who take insulin to control their diabetes are at increased risk of hypoglycemia.

Many people with type 2 diabetes are able to recognize the symptoms of hypoglycemia and take evasive action by consuming glucose-containing foods or beverages. Early symptoms to look out for include:

  • hunger
  • tiredness
  • fast or pounding heartbeat
  • turning pale, which may be less apparent in people with dark skin tones
  • sweating
  • shaking or trembling
  • tingling in the lips
  • dizziness
  • irritability or anxiety

Without treatment, hypoglycemia can cause more severe symptoms, such as:

  • weakness
  • blurred vision
  • slurred speech
  • confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • seizures
  • loss of consciousness

To qualify for disability benefits, a person with type 2 diabetes must provide evidence of their diagnosis and symptoms from an acceptable medical source. The evidence must be accurate and complete, and a person must submit the evidence in good time to assist claims processing.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) will consider evidence from both medical and nonmedical sources when making an assessment for disability benefits. A person’s disability must have affected them for at least 12 months for them to qualify.

The medical community classifies type 2 diabetes as an unseen disability. This means that although the disability may not be visible to others, it has a significant effect on the person’s day-to-day life.

The United States government takes into consideration the health problems a person with type 2 diabetes may experience that could affect their day-to-day functioning at work.

A person with this condition may need to apply for benefits if they experience one or more of the following:

  • Diabetic retinopathy: This refers to a significant loss of peripheral vision or visual acuity in the better of two eyes due to blood vessel damage. For this condition to merit disability benefits, the person must have a level of visual impairment close to blindness.
  • Neuropathy: In this condition of the nervous system, a person experiences pain, numbness, or weakness in one or more parts of the body. For this condition to merit disability benefits, it must affect two extremities severely enough to cause “sustained disturbance” when the person is walking or standing.
  • Acidosis: This is a condition in which bodily fluids become abnormally acidic. For this condition to merit disability benefits, the person must experience acidosis at least twice a month, as blood tests have evidenced.

The U.S. offers two different types of support for people living with conditions that result in disability: SSDI and SSI. A person will only qualify for one or both of these benefits if they are unable to work.

SSDI provides financial support for adults of any age who have worked for a qualifying period. The benefit begins after 6 full months of disability, and a person will qualify for Medicare after 24 months. This qualification will be immediate for people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

SSI provides basic financial help to people of any age who have a disability and have a very limited income or resources. State programs may supplement SSI. The benefit begins 1 month after a person files the claim. In most states, a person will automatically qualify for Medicaid when they start receiving SSI.

A person may receive both benefits if they have a work history in addition to a limited income or resources.

A person may also have health insurance through their work. Some insurance policies will pay out for 1–2 years following disability. Longer-term health insurance policies may pay for a few years or up until the policy ends.

A person can apply for disability benefits via:

  • the SSA website
  • a toll-free number
  • a prearranged appointment at a local Social Security office

A person should have some information ready when applying for disability benefits, including:

  • proof of age and Social Security number
  • any medical records relating to the disability, including:
    • test and laboratory results
    • details of all medications, including dosages
    • dates of any visits to a doctor’s office, hospital, or other medical facility
  • details of all medical professionals or organizations that have provided treatment, including:
    • doctors
    • caseworkers
    • clinics
    • hospitals
  • employment information, including the type of work a person did and where they worked
  • the most recent W-2 form or a copy of a federal tax return if self-employed

Documents should be original or certified copies from an issuing office. A person can mail the documents or take them to a Social Security office for staff to make photocopies and return the originals.

A person will only be eligible for disability payments if they can demonstrate total or severe disability that prevents them from undertaking most work. Medical experts must expect the disability to last at least 1 year or end in death.

There is an earnings cap that changes annually. People cannot earn above this cap and continue receiving disability benefits.

A person who is turned down for disability benefits can appeal against the decision. People can appeal online or by phone within a limited period. The original response letter will provide the necessary information on how to make an appeal.

When making an appeal, a person may need to provide further information on their medical condition and any additional tests or treatments they have received since the initial decision was made.

Deciding when to disclose a disability with an employer is a personal choice. Some people may prefer to keep their disability private, particularly if it is an unseen disability. Other people may need their work to make accommodations for them, so they might wish to disclose their disability at an early stage.

People who want to talk with their employer about a disability may benefit from the following:

  • talking with a person with whom they have a good relationship
  • taking along a trusted colleague for support, if talking with an employer in-person
  • explaining the situation in an email first, if a medical situation is complicated
  • thinking of questions that an employer may ask and preparing answers in advance
  • being aware that an employer may require medical documentation
  • making a list of jobs that may require some sort of adjustment for the person to be able to carry out their work effectively

Type 2 diabetes can cause severe complications that may make a person eligible for disability benefits. There are two types of benefits: SSDI, which requires a qualifying length of time in work, and SSI, which can support people with disabilities at any age and time in their work career.

People can apply for disability benefits online, by phone, or by attending a prearranged appointment at their local Social Security office. People will need to provide various information, such as proof of age, their social security number, and medical records pertaining to their condition.

Some people with type 2 diabetes may feel that they would be able to continue working with appropriate adjustments within their workplace. People in this situation can talk with their employer to determine ways in which they may be able to carry out their work more effectively.