John F. Kennedy's Migraines - A Secret?

Patient Expert

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts. During his short tenure as our 35th and youngest President, he created the Peace Corp, tackled the Cuban Missile Crisis, proposed a new Civil Rights Bill to Congress and promoted advancement in space exploration. All of this while he suffered Migraines and other ailments.

Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy and John Francis Fitzgerald Kennedy of Irish descent, had a large family - nine children in all. JFK was the second oldest and a fairly sick child. He had measles, chicken pox, whooping cough and a bout with scarlet fever during 1920, which back then, was considered life-threatening. It is also reported he suffered gastrointestinal issues and fatigue as a child. His health issues plagued him throughout his entire life.

JFK and his older brother Joe, attended Harvard, where both men were considered smart, friendly, and likeable. They played football together when Kennedy sustained his first substantial back injury, a ruptured disc in his spine. This would be the one of many back issues that would bother him for the rest of his life.

After gradation, the brothers joined the Navy, but went into different divisions. Joe opted to be a pilot and was sent off to Europe, while Jack commanding a PT-109, patrol torpedo boat in the South Pacific. He injured his back yet again, when a huge Japanese warship crashed into his PT, splitting the boat in two, killing two of his men. The remaining crew and JFK were rescued the next day. Joe Kennedy died the following year when his plane blew up while performing a dangerous mission in Europe.

On September 12, 1953, Senator Jack Kennedy married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier. Shortly afterward, he had two serious back operations and used the recovery time to write his Pulitzer Prize winning book "Profiles in Courage." The book relates how various U.S. Senators risked their careers to fight for what they believed in. It was a big year, Caroline was born too.

The Democratic party nominated JFK for President on July 13, 1960. November 8, 1960, marked the date the first Catholic and youngest man ever was elected President. John Jr. was also born that year. When the Kennedys got to the White House, they decided their living quarters and the entire White House were to be a celebration of American culture, history, and art. Mrs. Kennedy restored the White House so it would genuinely mirror America's history and artistic originality.

During the "redoing" of the White House, with all the first family's generally happy atmosphere, there still was no disclosure of any ailments of the President. And it seemed he had a few. But years ago, it was quite taboo to say anything was amiss with our public figures, especially the leader of the free world. We certainly didn't know then what we know now about Migraine disease. No one talked about having a Migraine back then, let alone saying you were debilitated by it. JFK supposedly had Addison's disease, and at one point was so sick they didn't think he would live very long. He was continually on steroids, but no one ever talked about it that either. It wasa well kept secret. Yet President Kennedy seemed to do his job well. His ailments didn't seem to inhibit his job performance, or did they? That is a question we will never have the answer to.

Today's public figures' health is a different story. We know all about them. When their last heart attack was, when they had a mole removed, and how large their prostate is. Which way is better? Knowing too much? How much IS too much? Aren't public figures entitled to privacy? On the other hand, are we entitled to know if they are able to do their job with whatever conditions they have? That does open up an entire can of worms, doesn't it? What do you think?

____ Sources:

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. "Growing Up in the Kennedy Family." John F. Kennedy, The 35th President of the United States. Biographies & Profiles.

Gilbert, Robert, E. "JFK and Addison's." Historical Resources. Archives. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum.

Green, Peter, H.R. MD. "Was JFK the Victim of an Undiagnosed Disease Common to the Irish?" History News Network. November 25, 2002.

Grossinger, Richard. "Migraine Auras: When the Visual World Fails." North Atlantic Books. Berkeley, California. 2006.

Photos: White House Photo Galleries.

Medical review by John Claude Krusz, PhD, MD

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