As North Korean leader Kim Jong-il turns 70 on Feb. 16, speculation over his ill health is causing growing concern for the future of his impoverished country. But what is the prognosis for the leader? Doctors say he mainly suffers from health problems in three areas.
Kim is slowly recovering from a stroke he suffered in 2008. In recent footage he looks as though he is still dealing with the fallout, with movement in his left hand restricted and his left foot dragging. Depending on progress, these handicaps will improve. But the real problem is the depression or impulse control disorder that stroke patients often suffer.
"If part of your brain is damaged due to stroke, you may suffer from depression as you become extremely sensitive to your emotions, or from uncontrollable anger attacks," a doctor said. "If people don't carefully manage the aftermath of a stroke, their judgment can be severely affected."
◆ Chronic Renal Failure from Diabetes
Kim has also reportedly been suffering from diabetes for more than a decade which has now led to chronic renal failure. Recent pictures of Kim show that the dark spots on his face have grown and his nails are whiter. This is probably due to a buildup of toxins in his body because the kidneys are failing. His wrists often look swollen, and he is said to be going undergoing kidney dialysis twice a week, but without a transplant his kidneys are unlikely to hold out for another five years.
Even if he wants a kidney transplant, it is unclear if North Korea has the wherewithal to perform the operation.
◆ Cardiovascular Disease
Doctors believe that Kim had a stroke due to the complications of diabetes. He seems to have gained some weight and started smoking again. A combination of diabetes, abdominal obesity and smoking greatly increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases recurring.
Cho Kyung-hwan, a professor at Korea University Anam Hospital, said, "After the age of 70, serious chronic diseases like diabetes can affect various parts of the body."