Ulcerative colitis (UC) can cause severe symptoms which can negatively affect a person’s quality of life and ability to work. As such, ulcerative colitis may qualify as a disability. Some benefits a person may be entitled to include parking permits and Medicare.

In this article, we look at when ulcerative colitis qualifies as a disability, how people with ulcerative colitis can determine if they are eligible for disability benefits, and how to apply.

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Ulcerative colitis (UC) falls under the category of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). People can have IBD with varying severity. For some people, their condition may qualify as disabling.

Some people may have severe UC symptoms, such as:

  • urgent bowel movements
  • abdominal pain and cramping
  • fatigue
  • nausea and vomiting
  • persistent diarrhea
  • appetite loss
  • unintentional weight loss
  • anemia

These symptoms may affect a person’s quality of life and ability to work or carry out everyday tasks.

Learn more about the symptoms of ulcerative colitis here.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that bars discrimination against people with disabilities.

According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, the ADA recognizes a person as having a disability if they have significant limitations in being able to carry out “major life activities.”

Major life activities include:

  • carrying out manual tasks
  • sleeping
  • walking
  • concentrating
  • working

This can also apply to any major bodily function, including the bowel and digestive system.

If people are able to work with UC, they may request accommodations at work through the ADA. Accommodations can include:

  • moving a desk or workplace closer to a restroom
  • flexible work hours to allow a person to address symptoms or go to medical appointments
  • extra breaks or rest periods
  • option to work from home to manage more severe symptoms
  • unpaid or paid leave for hospital treatments

People may be able to continue work and receive disability benefits, if they are eligible.

People with UC may be eligible for government disability benefits, such as the Social Security Income program or the Social Security Disability Insurance program, if they meet Social Security Administration requirements listed under Section 5.06 in the disability evaluation.

People may be eligible for disability benefits if they have UC alongside:

A) obstruction or narrowing of a passageway in the small or large intestine, which requires hospitalization for surgery or decompression, and has occurred at least twice within six months, with at least 60 days between each occurrence


B) if people are continuing prescription treatment and have two of the following within a six-month period:

  • anemia, with less than 10.0 grams hemoglobin per deciliter (g/dL)
  • serum albumin, a type of protein in the blood, of 3.0 g/dL or less
  • a tender abdominal mass, which is apparent in a physical examination, which causes abdominal pain or cramping, and which people cannot fully control with prescription narcotics
  • a disease affecting the area between the anus and genitals, with a draining fistula or abscess, and pain that people cannot fully control with prescription narcotics
  • a minimum of 10% involuntary weight loss from baseline weight
  • need for daily supplemental nutrition through a gastrostomy or central venous catheter
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People will need proof of A) or B) with medical documents. This could include imaging or findings from an operation, a biopsy, or an endoscopy.

The result or symptoms in category B) will need to be present in at least two examinations, with at least 60 days between each examination or test.

People can apply for Social Security disability benefits through the Social Security Administration website.

Complications of IBD as a disability

IBD may increase the risk of a rare condition called short bowel syndrome. The Social Security Administration lists short bowel syndrome under Section 5.07 in the disability evaluation.

People may also be eligible for disability benefits if they experience unintentional weight loss due to a digestive disorder. They need to have two body mass index (BMI) readings of less than 17.50, taken 60 days apart.

If people are unable to work for an extended period of time due to UC, they may be eligible for long-term disability insurance through their employer. A person either pays privately into an insurance program or their employer pays into a benefits program which would pay a percentage of the employee’s salary.

People may qualify for long-term disability insurance if they meet the policy’s definition of being disabled for 90–180 days.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that allows unpaid, job-protected leave.

Employees of a covered employer can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for medical reasons within a period of 12 months. Employees must have worked at their workplace for at least 12 months.

A covered employer is a private-sector employer with at least 50 employees in at least 20 workweeks. It can also include a public agency or elementary or secondary school.

People with UC may also require general sick leave for related surgery, doctor’s visits, mental health, or other health-related appointments.

Learn which mental health resources are available for a person to access here.

A person with UC also may be eligible to access these disability benefits:

  • Parking permits: People with UC may be eligible for a disabled parking permit, although the rules vary between states. People should talk to their doctor or contact the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in their state for the exact requirements.
  • Tax credits: If people receive Social Security disability benefits, they may be eligible for tax credits. If people have a disability and work, they may be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). People can find out if they are eligible for any disability tax credits through the EITC website.
  • Paying healthcare bills: People with disability benefits may be eligible for Medicaid or Medicare to help pay healthcare bills. In most states, people receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) will qualify for Medicaid. People may be eligible for Medicare if they are 65 years or over, or are disabled and receiving benefits for a minimum of 24 months.

Learn more about Medicare eligibility here.

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation has a collection of appeal letters that people may find useful, information about workplace accommodations, and information on applying for Social Security disability.

People can find out if they qualify for any disabled tax credits here.

Learn more about Medicare enrollment here.

Ulcerative colitis can cause severe symptoms which affect a person’s quality of life and ability to work or carry out everyday tasks. People may also need financial help to pay for treatments, or time off from work to attend healthcare appointments.

People may qualify for disability benefits if they meet certain criteria, which include specific complications from UC or ongoing severe symptoms.

People can talk to their doctor about applying for disability benefits or work accommodations, or find out more through the Social Security Administration’s website.