5 Health Disorders That Have Plagued Past Presidents

Talking about a sitting president’s ailments was once a taboo topic, but has since become public discourse.

This past presidential election, President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton were the oldest major party candidates to run for the presidency. Modern medicine has increased life expectancy and slowed the aging process, but Americans have always been curious about the health and vitality of the president—so much so that past presidents have hidden medical concerns from the public.

Here are a few of the conditions that have plagued presidents in the past:

1. Polio

“Let’s not talk about it” was the press approach for addressing President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s paralysis from polio. The public knew of his condition, but the press never showed Roosevelt in a wheelchair.

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Because of his personal experience, Roosevelt went on to found the March of Dimes, which funded research to create the polio vaccine. Today, two vaccines are used: one inactivates poliovirus; the other weakens the virus. Together, they have virtually eliminated polio around the world.

2. Obesity

Not just overweight, President William Taft was so obese that he got stuck in his bathtub. Taft, the 27th president of the United States, suffered from obesity and a whole range of related medical conditions, such as sleep apnea and high blood pressure.

Taft suffered shame and humiliation because of his weight, and even though he often dieted and exercised, he vacillated between weight loss and weight gain.

Modern medicine still hasn’t found a cure for obesity, but has come a long way in treating the condition. Dietary changes and nutrition plans, exercise regimes and sometimes, prescription weight loss medication and weight-loss surgery are viable treatments. Keck Medicine of USC boasts one of the most highly regarded and respected comprehensive, leading weight loss programs in the country with a proven record of maintaining one of the best surgical outcomes in California.

3. Heart Disease

Who knew? Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower and Warren Harding are just a few of the presidents that suffered from heart disease. Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, refers to the condition of blocked blood vessels that leads to heart attack, chest pain, angina or stroke.

Significant medical advancements have been made in the last 50 years, and today, the CardioVascular Thoracic Institute at Keck Medicine of USC is an established leader in research and clinical care. Cutting-edge treatments include robotic surgery, minimally invasive surgery, heart valve replacement, endovascular aortic interventions and ablation therapies.

4. Addison’s Disease

President John F. Kennedy was the picture of health during office—but he actually kept a medical secret. In 1947, he was diagnosed with Addison’s disease, an incurable disorder of the adrenal glands that he treated with steroids.

Kennedy also suffered from intense back pain and by the 1950s, regularly took powerful narcotics like Demerol and methadone on a regular basis to combat his pain. He was known to get injections in his back to help him stand during press conferences.

5. Cancer

President Grover Cleveland discovered a lump in the roof of his mouth, but rather than have it removed at a local hospital, he smuggled a medical team on board the presidential yacht. They performed surgery, removing the roof of his mouth up to his left eye, but the unsuspecting public didn’t find out until 15 years after his death.

Today, many of these diseases that plagued past presidents are treatable. If you think you may have any of these conditions, visit a Keck Medicine of USC physician to discuss your options.

By Heidi Tyline King

Keck Medicine of USC treats an array of medical conditions. If you are in the Los Angeles area and in search of a physical therapist, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit http://keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/ to schedule an appointment.