LIST: ‘Migraine everyday’ and Duterte’s other ailments

Pia Ranada

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LIST: ‘Migraine everyday’ and Duterte’s other ailments

Robinson Ninal

From Barrett's Esophagus to Buerger's Disease, here are the health issues that the septuagenarian Duterte has spoken about in public

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte has spoken about his ailments even before be assumed the presidency.

The 74-year-old Rody, the oldest Philippine president upon assumption of office, blames his maladies on his vices during his younger days and his fondness for riding motorcycles.

During his presidency, he has missed plenty of official engagements, prompting government officials and critics to call for the release of medical bulletings about his health. 

Though he has listed his various ailments in public speeches, Duterte has been highly sensitive when asked about his health, at one time even challenging a reporter to resign if Duterte could keep running on his treadmill for an hour and a half.

So what ailments are bugging Duterte? Here’s what he has revealed so far.

1. Buerger’s Disease

“Don’t believe in cancer. What I have is really Buerger’s disease. It’s an acquired thing that you get from smoking because of nicotine,” said Duterte on Monday, during a Peter Wallace Business Forum at the Palace. (READ: Duterte: ‘Don’t worry about my health’)

Buerger’s Disease is a rare condition involving the constriction of blood vessels in the arms and legs, blocking blood flow. This leads to damaged or destroyed skin tissue in the arms and legs, particularly in the hands and feet. Symptoms of this disease include a cold feeling in hands and feet, burning pain, and a pale, red or bluish color. The pain is often worse at night.

Buerger’s Disease occurs mainly among smokers.

2. Barrett’s Esophagus and GERD

“I have a pain also with the – I have a Barrett…the GERD, they call it,” Duterte said on Monday.

Barrett’s Esophagus is a complication of GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease. Smoking is a risk factor. In people with GERD, stomach contents flow backward into the esophagus which is not protected from the acid the stomach produces. 

Frequent occurences of this “acid reflux” could cause cells in the esophagus to become similar to cells in the intestine, creating Barrett’s Esophagus.

People with this condition have higher chances of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma, a potentially fatal cancer of the esophagus.

3. Spinal issues

“I have a lot of issues with my spinal…So that if you guys see me always with a sad mode, I am actually pushing a nerve here to relieve the pain,” said Duterte in the same speech, referring to his habit of cupping his cheek with his hand.

Addressing members of the Highway Patrol Group in Davao City in late November 2016, Duterte said his bouts with migraine are the aftermath of a motorcycle accident years before. This condition is what makes him frequently press his finger to his temple.

The pain got so serious that Duterte even mulled having an operation but eventually decided against it. He numbs the pain with fentanyl patches, the same pain killer used by cancer patients.

I was only given a fourth of that square thing. There was a time that if I took two. But now no more because – of course, my doctor learned that I was using the whole patch because I felt better. When he knew it, he made me stop and he said, ‘Stop it. The first thing that you would lose is your cognitive ability,'” said Duterte.

In October 2019, Duterte again figured in a motorcycle mishap which days later, caused him to suffer “unbearable pain” in the spinal area near his pelvis. He was forced to cut short the Japan trip he was on and schedule a consultation with a neurologist the next day.

4. Daily migraines

“Oust me, good. Assassinate me, better. I have this migraine every day,” said the President.

Duterte blamed a migraine for missing a speaking engagement during the 2016 campaign season and skipping a one-on-one interview with television personality Kris Aquino in November.

5. Myasthenia gravis

In October 2019, Duterte claimed he has myasthenia gravis, a rare autoimmune neuromuscular disease, where antibodies destroy muscle receptors that prevents the muscle from contracting. This, he said, is why one of his eyelids droop. The condition can also lead to overall weakness. 

After his complaint of “spinal” problems, Malacañang assured the public of Duterte’s good health.

“Nothing serious,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said on Tuesday, December 13, 2016.

Despite his old age and infirmities, no one can say Duterte is not an active president.

Cabinet members and his staff have marveled at his energy, traveling to dozens of military and police camps in his first months in power, making several foreign trips abroad, and giving as many as 5 speeches a day in between meetings. –


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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.