Hail to The (unhealthy?) Chief


All US Presidents have struggled with medical problems

before and during their time in office.



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Quick Facts:

George Washington (1789-1797) had nine deadly diseases.

Franklin Pierce (1853-1857) suffered from depression after his son was decapitated in a train accident.

Grover Cleveland (1885-1889 & 1893-1897) had secret surgery aboard a yacht in the Long Island Sound.

Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) had a stroke and relied on his wife to handle most administrative duties.

Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) suffered from severe depression after his son died from an infection caused by a blister which developed during a tennis match on the White House lawn.

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) made numerous visits to the hospital under assumed names including Ralph Frank, George Adams and John Cash.

Dwight E. Eisenhower (1953-1961) signed, without fanfare, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 while sitting in a hospital room recovering from surgery. Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller married the same day.

John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) was given the last rights several times before he became president.

Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)  showed off the scar he received from gall bladder surgery.

Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) lost half his blood after an assassin’s bullet landed one inch from his heart.

George H.W. Bush (1989-1993) vomited in the lap of the Japanese Prime Minister.

William Jefferson Clinton (1993-2001) gave a blood sample for a DNA test in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

George W. Bush (2001-2009) passed out eating a pretzel.


What is the health of the 2012 US presidential candidates?

According to their doctors, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are healthy. Both men’s health reports are available online (Obama | Romney)

Who are all the US presidents?

The White House maintains a list of the US presidents with brief (and sanitized) biographies of each.

What ailments did the US presidents have?

There is no one authoritative compilation of all the medical conditions of the US presidents, but a few researchers have addressed the issue.

Which US presidents died in office?

Have US presidents hidden their health condition?

US presidents and candidates for president have a history of hiding or at least minimizing the seriousness of their medical ailments.

For additional information on hidden health issues among US presidents, read Deception, Disclosure and the Politics of Health

Two books also address this issue:

What kind of medical care do US presidents receive?

US presidents prior to 1945 had personal civilian or military physicians. Since 1945, US presidents have relied on the White House Medical Unit, which is comprised of physicans, nurses and physician assistants. The Medical Evaluation and Treatment Unit at Bethesda Naval Hospital provides additional support to sitting US presidents and the vice-presidents.

For more information on the White House Medical Unit, read The White House Military Office

For an interview with Eleanor Concepcion “Connie” Mariano who was the lead physician of the White House Medical Unit for George H.W. Bush, William Clinton and George W. Bush, read Presidents As Patients: An Interview With Dr. Connie Mariano

For reminences of other former physicians to the US President, read White coats in the White House: Former presidential physicians reflect on their service

Which US presidents had surgery in office?

Did illness affect US president ability to govern?

This question is difficult to answer.

Do US presidents have shorter lives than normal?

Research into presidential longevity has led to differing conclusions. Some findings suggest US presidents experience accelerated aging while in office. However, other (disputed) findings conclude that US presidents appear, on average, to live longer than normal. No one seems to doubt that being president is stressful. The question remains as to what affect that kind of stress has on lifespan.

For a summary of the research and the debate on presidential longevity, read Do U.S. Presidents Age Faster While in Office?

How does the US government handle the transfer of power in the event of a President’s inablity to discharge the duties of the office?

The 25th Amendment of the US Constitution (passed in 1965) outlines the transfer of power protocol.

“In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.” Article 3 of the 25th Amendment offers more detail. If the US Presidents writes to leaders of Congress that he or she is unable to discharge the powers and duties of the presidency, the Vice president becomes the Acting President. “ For the entire US Constitution, read Constitution of the United States

Article 3 of the 25th Amendment was invoked only three times in history-- Ronald Reagan in 1985 during colon surgery. George W. Bush in 2002 and 2007 for colonoscopies. Copies of the letters written by US Presidents to leaders of Congress are available online List of Vice-Presidents Who Served as "Acting" President Under the 25th Amendment.

There is some confusion as to what happens when a sitting US President is rendered incapable of discharging the powers and duties of the presidency, yet has not informed leaders . This case arose when Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981 and needed emergency surgery. More than one high government offical stepped forward to claim they were “in charge.” The Day Reagan Was Shot

Are US presidents and candidates for president required to disclose their health reports?

No. Dwight D. Eisenhower, however, seemed to set a precedent by disclosing the nature and extent of his heart attack and subsequent surgery. Candidates and incumbents ever since have routinely shared their medical reports with the public.

Where can I read more about US presidents health?

A wide variety of journal ariticles, books and websites explore US presidential health.




Medical Journal Articles: (subscription may be needed)