An epidemiological description of a folk illness: a study of empacho in Guatemala.

Susan Weller, T. K. Ruebush, R. E. Klein

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Although anthropologists have provided descriptions of many folk illnesses, few have systematically evaluated their prevalence and determined who is at greatest risk for acquiring them. This report attempts to provide a systematic description of the folk illness empacho including the symptoms that define it. Illness prevalence was estimated and subpopulations at greatest risk were identified from illness histories collected from a random sample of households in rural Guatemala. Empacho was found to constitute a distinct cluster of symptoms: diarrhea, vomiting, headache, and lack of appetite. It differed from other gastrointestinal illnesses in that headaches were more likely and stomachaches were less likely to be reported. Empacho was highly prevalent and occurred in adults and children. Further, results showed that although empacho was frequently diagnosed by residents, folk healers were rarely consulted for any illness. Nevertheless, a strong association exists between a household diagnosis of empacho and the use of folk healers by those households (p less than .001).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-31
Number of pages13
JournalMedical anthropology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jun 1991


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)

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