Email: Puerto Rican Illnesses

Carla’s mother sent this email to me. It lists common Puerto Rican illnesses absent in the biomedical literature. Here it is:


Mysterious body temperature, not high enough to be consider fever, but serious enough to miss school and work. Illness is unknown by the American Medical Association (AMA) and only understood by doctors of Puerto Rican origin.

Attack of obscure origin that can strike at any time. It could be serious enough to require hospitalization, yet is undetected by medical technology. Victims tend to be males and females over the age of 50 years.


Occurs when someone steps outdoors suddenly at night and is sprinkled by a mysterious substance produced by the night air. There are no physical symptoms and it can only be detected by the Puerto Rican elderly. The effect of having this disease is unknown. Children must not be taken out at night without proper head gear or risk of contamination is certain.

Digestive disorder which occurs after the consumption of a large Puerto Rican meal. The only known cure for the disease is “una buena CAGADA” (defecate) or “tirarse un buen PEO” ( Flatulence ) (Alka-Seltzer is completely ineffective).

Cuerpo Cortao
Frequent and mild condition of unknown etymology. Symptoms include– but are not limited to– fatigue, lack of energy and chronic whining.

Moño Parao
Psychological imbalance of short duration that causes strange mood swings, violent irritating behavior as well as general unpleasantness.

Also referred to as the “Fuácata“. A clenched hand/closed cripple! Caused by left or right fingers flexed to not quite make a fist with middle finger slightly raised higher than the rest and delivered to a child’s head with a quick snap to the wrist.

Elevated cranial protrusion usually caused by the fall after a patatú. Can also be caused by the sudden or unexpected encounter with a cocotazo.

Mal de Orín
(Diagnosed by grandmas of those who are over 40)
Feeling of discomfort and urgency to urinate after a child has been sitting on a hot surface (like a rock or concrete) for a long period of time.

Dolor de Hijá
Severe pain endured by Puerto Rican women caused by “Doña Juana“, who visits them every month for a few days.

Mal de Amores
Feelings of extreme happiness and incessant talking about a new sweetheart.

Possible mental condition that doesn’t allow Puerto Ricans to think straight when they are too “enamoraos” (head over heels).

Churras de Abanico
Extreme, acid diarrhea that leaves the “exhaust pipe” on fire.

Term used by old time Puerto Rican grandmas to describe pain and discomfort caused by flatulence, so bad that gases couldn’ t come out. This could only be cured by the “sobadora” (some neighbor who specialized in rubbing the belly with oil while reciting prayers to the saints.) These ladies also helped with empachos.


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