JFK Took Many Drugs for Secret Health Problems

ByABC News via logo
November 17, 2002, 8:36 PM

Nov. 18 -- President John F. Kennedy's medical records reveal that he had suffered health problems since childhood, and used an arsenal of drugs, including painkillers and stimulants, to treat various medical conditions during his presidency.

A historian who examined his medical records was stunned at the extent of the health problems that the seemingly vigorous president dealt with.

"There was hardly a day that went by that he didn't suffer terribly," presidential historian Robert Dallek, a history professor at Boston University, told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America.

The revelations about JFK's health are included in Dallek's forthcoming book, An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963, which is excerpted in the December issue of Atlantic Monthly. Dallek was granted exclusive access to Kennedy's private papers for the years 1955 to 1963, including his X-rays and prescription drug records.

Kennedy suffered from colitis, prostatitis, and a disorder called Addison's disease, which affects the body's ability to regulate blood sugar and sodium. He also had osteoporosis of the lower back, causing pain so severe that he was unable to perform simple tasks such as reaching across his desk to pull papers forward, or pulling the shoe and sock onto his left foot, Dallek said.

Taking Drugs During Crises

To fight the pain, Kennedy took as many as 12 medications at once, taking more during times of stress.

The medical records reveal that Kennedy variously took codeine, Demerol and methadone for pain; Ritalin, a stimulant; meprobamate andlibrium for anxiety; barbiturates for sleep; thyroid hormone; and injections of a blood derivative, gamma globulin, a medicine thatcombats infections.

During the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, and the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, Kennedy was taking steroids for his Addison's disease, painkillers for his back, anti-spasmodics for his colitis, antibiotics for urinary tract infections, antihistamines for his allergies, and on at least one occasion, an anti-psychotic drug to treat a severe mood change that Jackie Kennedy believed was brought on by the antihistamines.