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How Pope Francis has suffered from health problems over the years


Pope Francis’ health has attracted increasing scrutiny since his predecessor, Benedict XVI, became the first pope to resign as head of the Vatican as a result of ill health in 2013.

Benedict died on December 31, 2022, and since then Francis has been open to the possibility of following his predecessor’s example and stepping down from the papacy if his health continues to fail.

The hospitalization of the 86-year-old in March 2023 with a bout of pneumonia has revived speculation that Francis might soon resign.

Here, MailOnline summarizes the litany of health problems Pope Francis has suffered over the years.

Pope Francis waves as he arrives in a wheelchair during an audience with participants in the General Assembly of the International Federation of Chiefs General in Paul VI Hall of the Vatican, on May 5, 2022

Respiratory problems and lung operations

Francis was taken to Rome’s Gemelli Hospital after a weekly public audience on 29 March after he had difficulty leaving the event and had difficulty breathing.

It was reported that he was suffering from a respiratory infection before doctors determined he had a mild case of pneumonia.

Medical staff said he will remain in the hospital for several days and undergo appropriate treatment, though they hope he will be released before the busy Easter time at the Vatican.

But Francis is particularly susceptible to respiratory disease, due to complications from a serious condition he contracted in his twenties.

When Jorge Bergoglio was then 21 years old, he developed pleurisy – inflammation of the tissues between the lungs and rib cage.

The affliction was so serious that he almost died and the doctors had to Removing several pulmonary cysts and a small portion of the upper right lung, according to Pope biographer Austin Ivery.

A lengthy recovery process ensued which affected Francis’ voice – he could often be heard speaking in little more than a whisper.

Pope said he has fully recovered from his pleurisy, but that his reduced lung capacity puts him at greater risk for chronic respiratory disease.

Pope Francis is helped into his car at the end of the weekly plenary session in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican, Wednesday, March 29, 2023, before being taken to hospital.

Pope Francis is helped into his car at the end of the weekly plenary session in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, Wednesday, March 29, 2023, before being taken to hospital.

Digestive problems

Pope Francis has had multiple cases of Diverticulitis, a condition in which the colon can become infected or inflamed.

In July 2021, the condition brought him to the hospital and doctors forced him to perform a hemicolectomy — an operation that involves removing one side of the colon — as severe inflammation and scar tissue had narrowed the intestinal tract.

The three-hour surgery was a success and relieved the narrowing in his intestines. There were concerns that Francis might struggle to recover due to his advanced age, but he recovered quickly and did not have to miss any major events due to the Vatican’s reduced schedule in July and August.

Eating high-fiber foods, as well as drinking adequate fluids, can help prevent conditions like this from coming back, although up to 60-70 percent of people who have had a single bout of diverticulitis may see it come back.

In early 2023, Pope Francis said the condition had returned and that it had caused him to put on weight — though he added that he wasn’t overly concerned.

There were no suggestions that he would be forced to have another operation on the remainder of his colon.

knee problems

One of the chronic ailments Francis suffers from is chronic knee pain.

He has lost a great deal of mobility and is now rarely seen in public without a mobility aid such as a cane or wheelchair.

He told Italian media in 2022 that he was suffering from ligament inflammation, and the Catholic News Agency reported later that year that he had torn ligaments in his right knee.

He also fractured a small patella after a fall later in the year.

His lack of movement and the increasing severity of his knee pain led the Pope, who was previously preparing for the plane, to cancel many trips.

In 2022, Francis canceled a July trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan – prompting huge speculation about the timeline for his resignation.

Pope Francis walks with a cane to reach his seat as he arrives for his weekly audience on June 22, 2022

Pope Francis walks with a cane to reach his seat as he arrives for his weekly audience on June 22, 2022

Francis told Reuters he prefers not to have surgery on his knee because he does not want a repeat of the negative long-term side effects of anesthesia he experienced after the hemicolectomy in 2021.

He said he was “a little shy” about using a wheelchair due to his tired knees, but added that getting older is simply a part of life that one has to accept.

“I have less physical resistance, (the problem with) the knee was the humiliation of my body, even if the recovery is going well,” he said in statements to the media.

And the strength of the flesh fails and abandons us, although our hearts do not stop yearning. One must then learn to purify desire: to be patient, to choose what one demands of the body and life.

When we get older, we can’t do the same things we did when we were young: the body has another pace, and we must listen to the body and accept its limits. We have them all. I also have to use a walking stick now.


The pope has complained of sciatica on numerous occasions, telling reporters as early as 2013 that he was in great pain as a result of a nerve problem.

Francis suffered from sciatica for several years. He spoke about it at length to reporters during a press conference on the plane back from a trip to Brazil in July 2013.

“Sciatica is very painful, very painful!” he said of the condition.

Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back to the bottom of the foot, is irritated or compressed, either as a result of a direct injury or other disease.

Patients often experience severe pain in the lower back and legs, and they may also experience numbness in the feet and legs.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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