To receive disability insurance benefits, merely having a disabling diagnosis isn’t enough. Insurance companies demand concrete evidence to assess the validity and severity of the condition. This evidence typically includes medical records, doctor’s letters, and test results. Including a symptom diary can also strengthen your claim by providing daily details of your condition and its impact on your life.  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 detailing your daily condition can boost your approval chances. This is especially true for medical conditions like migraine headaches, which may lack ‘objective’ evidence. 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 cannot perform 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. You don’t have to complicate the symptom diary; you can maintain it on a calendar, in a notebook, or digitally. The most important thing is that you are consistent. You can find free symptom diaries on the internet designed to help you track 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 capture the daily changes in your condition. Include details about your day, activities you were able to complete, and things you are no longer able to accomplish. Document the intensity and duration of any pain that follows task completion, as most disabilities or illnesses cause residual pain. 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 state that symptom diaries can offer “objective” proof of conditions like migraine headaches, which are hard to measure with tests.  Although these diaries contain subjective observations, doctors commonly use them just like they use x-rays or test results. This method helps provide clear evidence of the frequency and severity of the headaches. 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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