Empacho (A Cold Illness)

Empacho (or tripida) literally means an impacted stomach or surfeit. While all ages may be prone to empacho, it is much more common in young children. The etiology is felt to be adherence of soft food and difficult-to-digest substances (such as popcorn or chewing gum) to the stomach wall. Symptoms are anorexia, stomach ache, vomiting, pain with diarrhea, and generalized abdominal fullness. The diagnosis is made by the healer noting symptoms and checking for direct (but not rebound) abdominal tenderness, feeling knots in the calves, and/or rolling a fresh chicken egg over the abdomen. Empacho is confirmed if the egg appears to stick to a particular area. Remedies include rubbing the stomach or back, popping of the skin, and purgative teas of wormwood (estafiate) or camomile (manzanilla). Lead (azarcón) or mercury (greta) powders are still occasionally given.

Administration of these heavy metals can cause severe illness and death, but occasionally are still used despite a widely disseminated public information program.