Saturday, March 22, 2008

JFK’s Unknown Illness

submitted by Holly A. Evanoski

Most people know that JFK had severe back problems. But not many people knew he also had a fatal type of adrenal insufficiency called Addison’s disease. Recently JFK was mentioned in an article about a 10 year old girl that suffers from a form of this same disease.

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Addison’s disease is an endocrine or hormonal disorder that occurs in all age groups and afflicts men and women equally. Addison's disease occurs when the adrenal glands do not produce enough of the hormone cortisol and, in some cases, the hormone aldosterone. The disease is also called adrenal insufficiency, or hypocortisolism.

Just like Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940s, JFK hid his life-long illness. However, FDR was able to hide his due to the lack of televisions. JFK wasn’t so lucky. As a President that went out and met the people face to face as well as doing televised conferences and debates he always had to look his best. Thanks to a regime of medications he was able to cover this ailment so well that no one suspected, not even media personnel.

Over the course of history the health of Presidents has turned into a political issue. The perceived political consequences of disclosing a president’s medical problems have sometimes conflicted with the public’s concern for accountability and openness. Despite this JFK refused to let his illness be known to the world, especially since he was about to become President of the United States. In the wake of the Eisenhower’s several medical issues that caused questions as to whether he could run a 2nd term, the health of the President in the 1960 election became an important issue.

JFK’s case was even put into the Journal of American Medical Association in November 1955. However, no one knew due to the fact that he was only referred to as “the 37-year old man.” During the 1960 Presidential race the JFK campaign denied that he had the disease. JFK’s staff said it was an insufficiency of the adrenal glands due to tuberculosis which wasn’t life threatening and would not impede his chances at wining an election.

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