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Donald H. Peters

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How do we evaluate chronic liver disease?

  1. General. Chronic liver disease is characterized by liver cell necrosis, inflammation, or scarring (fibrosis or cirrhosis), due to any cause, that persists for more than 6 months. Chronic liver disease may result in portal hypertension, cholestasis (suppression of bile flow), extrahepatic manifestations, or liver cancer. (We evaluate liver cancer under 13.19.) Significant loss of liver function may be manifested by hemorrhage from varices or portal hypertensive gastropathy, ascites (accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity), hydrothorax (ascitic fluid in the chest cavity), or encephalopathy. There can also be progressive deterioration of laboratory findings that are indicative of liver dysfunction. Liver transplantation is the only definitive cure for end stage liver disease (ESLD).
  2. Examples of chronic liver disease include, but are not limited to, chronic hepatitis, alcoholic liver disease, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC), primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), autoimmune hepatitis, hemochromatosis, drug-induced liver disease, Wilson’s disease, and serum alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. Acute hepatic injury is frequently reversible, as in viral, drug-induced, toxin-induced, alcoholic, and ischemic hepatitis. In the absence of evidence of a chronic impairment, episodes of acute liver disease do not meet 5.05.
  3. Manifestations of chronic liver disease.
    1. Symptoms may include, but are not limited to, pruritis (itching), fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, or sleep disturbances. Symptoms of chronic liver disease may have a poor correlation with the severity of liver disease and functional ability.
    2. Signs may include, but are not limited to, jaundice, enlargement of the liver and spleen, ascites, peripheral edema, and altered mental status.
    3. Laboratory findings may include, but are not limited to, increased liver enzymes, increased serum total bilirubin, increased ammonia levels, decreased serum albumin, and abnormal coagulation studies, such as increased International Normalized Ratio (INR) or decreased platelet counts. Abnormally low serum albumin or elevated INR levels indicate loss of synthetic liver function, with increased likelihood of cirrhosis and associated complications. However, other abnormal lab tests, such as liver enzymes, serum total bilirubin, or ammonia levels, may have a poor correlation with the severity of liver disease and functional ability. A liver biopsy may demonstrate the degree of liver cell necrosis, inflammation, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. If you have had a liver biopsy, we will make every reasonable effort to obtain the results; however, we will not purchase a liver biopsy. Imaging studies (CAT scan, ultrasound, MRI) may show the size and consistency (fatty liver, scarring) of the liver and document ascites (see 5.00D6).
  4. Chronic viral hepatitis infections.
    1. General.
      1. Chronic viral hepatitis infections are commonly caused by hepatitis C virus (HCV), and to a lesser extent, hepatitis B virus (HBV). Usually, these are slowly progressive disorders that persist over many years during which the symptoms and signs are typically nonspecific, intermittent, and mild (for example, fatigue, difficulty with concentration, or right upper quadrant pain). Laboratory findings (liver enzymes, imaging studies, liver biopsy pathology) and complications are generally similar in HCV and HBV. The spectrum of these chronic viral hepatitis infections ranges widely and includes an asymptomatic state; insidious disease with mild to moderate symptoms associated with fluctuating liver tests; extrahepatic manifestations; cirrhosis, both compensated and decompensated; ESLD with the need for liver transplantation; and liver cancer. Treatment for chronic viral hepatitis infections varies considerably based on medication tolerance, treatment response, adverse effects of treatment, and duration of the treatment. Comorbid disorders, such as HIV infection, may affect the clinical course of viral hepatitis infection(s) or may alter the response to medical treatment.
      2. We evaluate all types of chronic viral hepatitis infections under 5.05 or any listing in an affected body system(s). If your impairment(s) does not meet or medically equal a listing, we will consider the effects of your hepatitis when we assess your residual functional capacity.
    2. Chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection.
      1. Chronic HBV infection is diagnosed by the detection of hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) in the blood for at least 6 months. In addition, detection of the hepatitis B envelope antigen (HBeAg) suggests an increased likelihood of progression to cirrhosis and ESLD.
      2. The therapeutic goal of treatment is to suppress HBV replication and thereby prevent progression to cirrhosis and ESLD. Treatment usually includes a combination of interferon injections and oral antiviral agents. Common adverse effects of treatment are the same as noted in 5.00D4c(ii) for HCV, and generally end within a few days after treatment is discontinued.
    3. Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection.
      1. Chronic HCV infection is diagnosed by the detection of hepatitis C viral RNA in the blood for at least 6 months. Documentation of the therapeutic response to treatment is also monitored by the quantitative assay of serum HCV RNA (“HCV viral load”). Treatment usually includes a combination of interferon injections and oral ribavirin; whether a therapeutic response has occurred is usually assessed after 12 weeks of treatment by checking the HCV viral load. If there has been a substantial reduction in HCV viral load (also known as early viral response, or EVR), this reduction is predictive of a sustained viral response with completion of treatment. Combined therapy is commonly discontinued after 12 weeks when there is no early viral response, since in that circumstance there is little chance of obtaining a sustained viral response (SVR). Otherwise, treatment is usually continued for a total of 48 weeks.
      2. Combined interferon and ribavirin treatment may have significant adverse effects that may require dosing reduction, planned interruption of treatment, or discontinuation of treatment. Adverse effects may include: Anemia (ribavirin-induced hemolysis), neutropenia, thrombocytopenia, fever, cough, fatigue, myalgia, arthralgia, nausea, loss of appetite, pruritis, and insomnia. Behavioral side effects may also occur. Influenza-like symptoms are generally worse in the first 4 to 6 hours after each interferon injection and during the first weeks of treatment. Adverse effects generally end within a few days after treatment is discontinued.
    4. Extrahepatic manifestations of HBV and HCV. In addition to their hepatic manifestations, both HBV and HCV may have significant extrahepatic manifestations in a variety of body systems. These include, but are not limited to: Keratoconjunctivitis (sicca syndrome), glomerulonephritis, skin disorders (for example, lichen planus, porphyria cutanea tarda), neuropathy, and immune dysfunction (for example, cryoglobulinemia, Sjögren’s syndrome, and vasculitis). The extrahepatic manifestations of HBV and HCV may not correlate with the severity of your hepatic impairment. If your impairment(s) does not meet or medically equal a listing in an affected body system(s), we will consider the effects of your extrahepatic manifestations when we assess your residual functional capacity.
  5. Gastrointestinal hemorrhage (5.02 and 5.05A). Gastrointestinal hemorrhaging can result in hematemesis (vomiting of blood), melena (tarry stools), or hematochezia (bloody stools). Under 5.02, the required transfusions of at least 2 units of blood must be at least 30 days apart and occur at least three times during a consecutive 6-month period. Under 5.05A, hemodynamic instability is diagnosed with signs such as pallor (pale skin), diaphoresis (profuse perspiration), rapid pulse, low blood pressure, postural hypotension (pronounced fall in blood pressure when arising to an upright position from lying down) or syncope (fainting). Hemorrhaging that results in hemodynamic instability is potentially life-threatening and therefore requires hospitalization for transfusion and supportive care. Under 5.05A, we require only one hospitalization for transfusion of at least 2 units of blood.
  6. Ascites or hydrothorax (5.05B) indicates significant loss of liver function due to chronic liver disease. We evaluate ascites or hydrothorax that is not attributable to other causes under 5.05B. The required findings must be present on at least two evaluations at least 60 days apart within a consecutive 6-month period and despite continuing treatment as prescribed.
  7. Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (5.05C) is an infectious complication of chronic liver disease. It is diagnosed by ascitic peritoneal fluid that is documented to contain an absolute neutrophil count of at least 250 cells/mm3. The required finding in 5.05C is satisfied with one evaluation documenting peritoneal fluid infection. We do not evaluate other causes of peritonitis that are unrelated to chronic liver disease, such as tuberculosis, malignancy, and perforated bowel, under this listing. We evaluate these other causes of peritonitis under the appropriate body system listings.
  8. Hepatorenal syndrome (5.05D) is defined as functional renal failure associated with chronic liver disease in the absence of underlying kidney pathology. Hepatorenal syndrome is documented by elevation of serum creatinine, marked sodium retention, and oliguria (reduced urine output). The requirements of 5.05D are satisfied with documentation of any one of the three laboratory findings on one evaluation. We do not evaluate known causes of renal dysfunction, such as glomerulonephritis, tubular necrosis, drug-induced renal disease, and renal infections, under this listing. We evaluate these other renal impairments under 6.00ff.
  9. Hepatopulmonary syndrome (5.05E) is defined as arterial deoxygenation (hypoxemia) that is associated with chronic liver disease due to intrapulmonary arteriovenous shunting and vasodilatation in the absence of other causes of arterial deoxygenation. Clinical manifestations usually include dyspnea, orthodeoxia (increasing hypoxemia with erect position), platypnea (improvement of dyspnea with flat position), cyanosis, and clubbing. The requirements of 5.05E are satisfied with documentation of any one of the findings on one evaluation. In 5.05E1, we require documentation of the altitude of the testing facility because altitude affects the measurement of arterial oxygenation. We will not purchase the specialized studies described in 5.05E2; however, if you have had these studies at a time relevant to your claim, we will make every reasonable effort to obtain the reports for the purpose of establishing whether your impairment meets 5.05E2.
  10. Hepatic encephalopathy (5.05F).
    1. General. Hepatic encephalopathy usually indicates severe loss of hepatocellular function. We define hepatic encephalopathy under 5.05F as a recurrent or chronic neuropsychiatric disorder, characterized by abnormal behavior, cognitive dysfunction, altered state of consciousness, and ultimately coma and death. The diagnosis is established by changes in mental status associated with fleeting neurological signs, including “flapping tremor” (asterixis), characteristic electroencephalographic (EEG) abnormalities, or abnormal laboratory values that indicate loss of synthetic liver function. We will not purchase the EEG testing described in 5.05F3b; however, if you have had this test at a time relevant to your claim, we will make every reasonable effort to obtain the report for the purpose of establishing whether your impairment meets 5.05F.
    2. Acute encephalopathy. We will not evaluate your acute encephalopathy under 5.05F if it results from conditions other than chronic liver disease, such as vascular events and neoplastic diseases. We will evaluate these other causes of acute encephalopathy under the appropriate body system listings.
  11. End stage liver disease (ESLD) documented by scores from the SSA Chronic Liver Disease (SSA CLD) calculation (5.05G).
    1. We will use the SSA CLD score to evaluate your ESLD under 5.05G. We explain how we calculate the SSA CLD score in b. through g. of this section.
    2. To calculate the SSA CLD score, we use a formula that includes three laboratory values: Serum total bilirubin (mg/dL), serum creatinine (mg/dL), and International Normalized Ratio (INR). The formula for the SSA CLD score calculation is:

      9.57 x [Loge(serum creatinine mg/dL)]
      +3.78 x [Loge(serum total bilirubin mg/dL)]
      +11.2 x [Loge(INR)]
      +6.43
    3. When we indicate “Loge” in the formula for the SSA CLD score calculation, we mean the “base e logarithm” or “natural logarithm” (ln) of a numerical laboratory value, not the “base 10 logarithm” or “common logarithm” (log) of the laboratory value, and not the actual laboratory value. For example, if an individual has laboratory values of serum creatinine 1.2 mg/dL, serum total bilirubin 2.2 mg/dL, and INR 1.0, we would compute the SSA CLD score as follows:
      9.57 x [Loge(serum creatinine 1.2 mg/dL) = 0.182]
      +3.78 x [Loge(serum total bilirubin 2.2 mg/dL) = 0.788]
      +11.2 x [Loge(INR 1.0) = 0]
      +6.43
      _________
      = 1.74 + 2.98 + 0 + 6.43
      = 11.15, which is then rounded to an SSA CLD score of 11.
    4. For any SSA CLD score calculation, all of the required laboratory values must have been obtained within 30 days of each other. If there are multiple laboratory values within the 30-day interval for any given laboratory test (serum total bilirubin, serum creatinine, or INR), we will use the highest value for the SSA CLD score calculation. We will round all laboratory values less than 1.0 up to 1.0.
    5. Listing 5.05G requires two SSA CLD scores. The laboratory values for the second SSA CLD score calculation must have been obtained at least 60 days after the latest laboratory value for the first SSA CLD score and within the required 6-month period. We will consider the date of each SSA CLD score to be the date of the first laboratory value used for its calculation.
    6. If you are in renal failure or on dialysis within a week of any serum creatinine test in the period used for the SSA CLD calculation, we will use a serum creatinine of 4, which is the maximum serum creatinine level allowed in the calculation, to calculate your SSA CLD score.
    7. If you have the two SSA CLD scores required by 5.05G, we will find that your impairment meets the criteria of the listing from at least the date of the first SSA CLD score.
  12. Liver transplantation (5.09) may be performed for metabolic liver disease, progressive liver failure, life-threatening complications of liver disease, hepatic malignancy, and acute fulminant hepatitis (viral, drug-induced, or toxin-induced). We will consider you to be disabled for 1 year from the date of the transplantation. Thereafter, we will evaluate your residual impairment(s) by considering the adequacy of post-transplant liver function, the requirement for post-transplant antiviral therapy, the frequency and severity of rejection episodes, comorbid complications, and all adverse treatment effects.

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You need no money to hire Attorney Donald H. Peters

(248) 549-3485
FREE CONSULTATION

Call Social Security Professionals now to discuss your claim for free

You need no money to hire Attorney Donald H. Peters

(248) 549-3485
FREE CONSULTATION

Southfield Lawyer Donald Peters of the Law Office of Donald H. Peters, P.C. in Southfield, Michigan, handles Social Security Disability claims throughout Michigan and in the Tri-County Metro Detroit area including Detroit, Southfield, Novi, Warren, Royal Oak, Roseville, Livonia, Mount Clemens, Sterling Heights, Farmington Hills, Birmingham, Berkley, Oak Park, West Bloomfield, Ann Arbor, Eastpointe, Waterford, Flint, Canton, Taylor, Romulus, Westland, Clinton Township, Troy, Dearborn, Brighton, Howell, Pontiac, Rochester Hills,  as well as Wayne County, Oakland County, Macomb County, Ingham County, and Livingston County, Michigan.

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