To receive disability insurance benefits from an insurance company, it’s not enough to have a disabling diagnosis. Rather, insurance companies reviewing disability benefit claims require evidence (such as medical records, letters from doctors, and test results) to determine the validity and severity of the disabling condition, a Symptom diary. Therefore, even if you suffer from a genuine disability, if it is not properly documented, the insurance company may use that lack of evidence to deny your claim. It is important to review your policy and include any and all information you believe will help explain your condition and support your claim.

Including a symptom diary can help improve your chances of approval by detailing your condition on a day-to-day basis. That is particularly true if you suffer from migraine headaches or other medical conditions for which “objective” evidence may not exist. This article will explain how keeping a symptom diary can help to provide additional context and support for your disability claim beyond what is contained in your doctor’s notes.

Your Policy’s Definition of “Disability”

The definition of “disability” or “disabled” can vary from policy to policy. Understanding which definition is specific to your policy is key to a successful disability claim. A typical definition of disability may be similar to:

Disabled or Disability means You are prevented from performing one or more of the Essential Duties of:

  1. Your Occupation during the Elimination Period of an LTD insurance Claim;
  2. Your Occupation, for the 24 months following the Elimination Period, as a result Your Current Monthly Earnings are less than 80% of Your Indexed Pre-disability Earnings; and;
  3. after that, Any Occupation.

It is important to remember, that definitions can vary by different insurance companies, and even policy to policy. Read your policy carefully and consult a disability insurance attorney if you have any questions.

What Is a Symptom Diary?

A symptom diary is a journal, or other document, where you record your daily symptoms and how they affect your ability to function. A symptom diary doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be kept on a calendar, in a notebook, or even digitally. The most important thing is that you are consistent. Free symptom diaries are available on the internet and are designed to help you keep track of your symptoms. There are also many apps you can download on your phone or tablet that will record your symptoms.

What Should You Record?

Chronic disabilities or illnesses can affect you differently each day. The symptom diary should reflect how your condition changes day by day. Include details about your day, activities you were able to complete, and things you are no longer able to accomplish. Since most disabilities or illnesses cause residual pain, document how much pain you experience after performing a task, and how long that pain lasts. If you have a condition that is exacerbated by food (i.e., irritable bowel syndrome, heart burn), keep track of what you eat and how it makes you feel. If you suffer from headaches, it is important to keep track of symptoms such as, sensitivity to light, sound, and activities. In addition, document what if anything, relieves your symptoms. It is important to understand, your symptom diary cannot be too detailed. The more details you provide regarding your symptoms and their effects on your function, the better understanding the reader will gain from its contents. In addition, to providing evidence for your disability claim or subsequent appeal, your doctor may benefit from the diary to help with diagnosis and treatment.

Conditions That Benefit Most from a Symptom Diary.

Symptom diaries are used to document a variety of conditions, especially those conditions that are hard to qualify by a laboratory test or radiological studies (i.e., MRIs, X-rays). People who suffer from migraines, heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome (“IBS”), chronic pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia, can benefit from keeping a symptom diary. Indeed, when filing a claim for disability benefits, any conditions that hinders the persons ability to function, can benefit from providing the claim manager with a daily account of your symptoms and limitations.

Medical and legal scholars agree that for conditions with no objective tests, such as migraine headache pain, symptom diaries can provide “objective proof” of the frequency and severity of headache pain, even though such diaries incorporate subjective observations, “since it is a form of evidence commonly used by physicians treating potential migraine patients, similar to how other doctors utilize x-rays or test results.” See Creel v. Wachovia Corp., 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 1733, *26-27 (11th Cir. Fla. Jan.27, 2009); see also Leetzow v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., No. EDCV152468VAPKKX, 2016 WL 7324092, at *9 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 5, 2016) (citing headache log as evidence supporting disability).

It is important to remember, however, that nothing can guarantee an approval of disability benefits. Providing a detailed symptom diary is compelling evidence to show how your specific condition and symptoms affect your ability to function.

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