Presidential candidates' maladies at a glance
Back pain would stop President Kennedy, shown with daughter Caroline in August 1963, from lifting his kids.
July 21st, 2011
08:45 PM ET

Presidential candidates' maladies at a glance

Much was made of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s migraines this week, making her the latest in a long string of U.S. presidential candidates whose health has been put under a public microscope.

Candidates with far more life-threatening conditions have pressed on with their campaigns, and some have been elected. Here are some examples of politicians who dealt with serious (or reportedly serious) health issues during their presidential or vice presidential campaigns, with varying degrees of public awareness.

Franklin D. Roosevelt (president, 1933 to 1945)

Roosevelt’s paralysis in the legs at age 39 (officially from polio, though the diagnosis has been questioned) wasn't exactly a secret when he ran for president 11 years later. But he and the press didn't go out of their way to emphasize it. He was rarely photographed in his wheelchair, for example. He also got around with canes, leg braces and help from aides, and managed a type of walking by "using his hips to swing his atrophied legs forward," the University of Virginia’s Miller Center says in a Roosevelt profile.

Public appearances, such as one in which he "walked" to a podium in 1928 at the Democratic National Convention to nominate Alfred E. Smith for that party’s presidential nomination, "helped dispel rumors about his illness," the center's profile says.

Roosevelt was struggling with heart and circulatory problems as his third term concluded in 1944, but the World War II president sought re-election anyway. In April 1945, just months into his fourth term and weeks before Germany surrendered, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Dwight D. Eisenhower (president, 1953 to 1961)

Two health episodes cast doubt on whether Eisenhower would seek re-election as his first term concluded. The first – a heart attack – happened in September 1955 at age 64 as he vacationed in Denver.

"For several months, as Eisenhower convalesced, the question was whether the president could run again," the Miller Center says in its Eisenhower profile. "But by the beginning of 1956, Eisenhower had resumed a full schedule, and his cardiologist announced that the president was capable of serving a second term."

But in May 1956 – just months before the election, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, or ileitis, and the following month had surgery. The incident "cast momentary doubt on Eisenhower's candidacy, but a routine recovery from three-hour surgery … relieved public apprehensions," The New York Times said in Eisenhower's obituary years later.

He was re-elected, but in November 1957 suffered a mild stroke that for weeks gave him speaking difficulties. He finished his term without any more major health incidents and died in March 1969, eight years after leaving the White House.

John F. Kennedy (president, 1961 to 1963)

Kennedy projected an image of vigor, but he was chronically ill from childhood. His poor health - back problems and Addison’s disease, among other things - caused him to have one of the worst attendance records in Congress, where he served before his 1960 election to the presidency, according to the Miller Center.

"He relied on a steady stream of painkillers and steroids to treat the symptoms of his many ailments," the center's profile on Kennedy says. "Constant back pain would prevent him from lifting even his own small children."

Thomas Eagleton (vice presidential nominee in 1972)

Eagleton, a U.S. senator from Missouri, was the Democrats' vice presidential nominee for less than three weeks in 1972. The reason for the brevity of his stint on George McGovern's ticket: Eagleton was dogged by questions about his treatment for depression.

Addressing rumors of past hospitalizations, Eagleton, after his July 1972 selection, "told reporters that he had been treated and had been treated for ‘nervous exhaustion,'" The New York Times reported decades later in Eagleton's obituary.

"But in response to questions, he acknowledged that the treatment had included psychiatric counseling and electric shocks," the Times reported.

McGovern, who has written that Eagleton told his campaign that nothing in his background would bring trouble, dumped Eagleton in favor of Sargent Shriver. McGovern lost to incumbent Richard Nixon, and Eagleton, then in his first term in the Senate, continued as senator until 1987.

Paul Tsongas (presidential candidate in 1992)

After the Massachusetts politician left the U.S. Senate in the mid-1980s to fight lymphoma, he ran for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination, saying he was cancer-free.

He won the first primary, in New Hampshire, but took only five more states and lost the nomination to Bill Clinton. In April 1992, Tsongas acknowledged that he’d been treated for a recurrence of his cancer in 1987, though he’d said previously that he’d been without cancer since 1986, according to The New York Times.

In December 1992, he announced that he’d been diagnosed with another type of lymphoma. In January 1997 – days before his term as president would have ended – he died after developing pneumonia and fighting a liver problem related to his cancer treatments, according to the Times.

John McCain (presidential candidate in 2000 and 2008)

Age was one issue McCain had to address when he ran for president in 2008. At 72, he would have been the oldest man sworn in for a first term. Another was his medical history: He is a skin cancer survivor.

To allay concerns, the U.S. senator from Arizona released more than 1,100 pages of his medical records to reporters. And his personal physician, Dr. John Eckstein, released a letter saying there is no medical reason "that would preclude McCain from fulfilling all the duties and obligations of the president of the United States."

Still, in a CNN/ORC International Poll released in October 2008, 47% of respondents said they were concerned that McCain would not finish a four-year term as president in good health.

McCain, who won the Republican nomination but lost to Barack Obama in the 2008 general election, won his fifth Senate term last year.

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Filed under: Politics
soundoff (132 Responses)
  1. Cesar

    There hasn't been a good cleaning in the White House since the Hoover administration.

    July 21, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • michaelfury

      July 22, 2011 at 7:44 am | Report abuse |
  2. drap

    Are George Washingtons wood dentures up for sale... .?

    July 21, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Consuela the Griffin family maid

    I clean and polish wood..but no do windows without windex.

    July 21, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ridiculous

    If she gets elected, I am leaving the country. She is nothing but an idiot.

    July 21, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • T. Storm

      And that is different from what we havenow, how???

      July 21, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • umm

      T. Storm....if you can't see the difference, you're not so bright yourself.

      This article is isn't the migraines that bother people, it's the CRAZY. Don't recall other Presidents being especially crazy. Sorry, CNN.

      July 21, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • loca

      4 real...

      July 21, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • chgovoter

      Your post is just as ridiculous as your screen name. But that's how you identify yourself, 'RIDICULOUS'.

      July 22, 2011 at 1:45 am | Report abuse |
  5. Mmmmm

    Migraines my azzzzzz! She's crazy and she aint getting my vote!

    July 21, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bearclaw Palin

    I could use a Bachmann floor rug to tie my den and living room together... .

    July 21, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Lori

    Did any of the previous president's have conditions that kept them from doing their jobs? I mean a heart attack is not a condition... it is something that happens and Eisenhower eventually did resume his presidency. JFK and FDR had problems with their physical bodies, but nothing that prevented them from meeting with people or making decisions. If Michelle Bachman's migraines are as serious as I hear that they are and if they are frequent, then in all honesty that could get in the way of her being president.

    July 21, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
  8. LadyAnon

    I see pain as an issue in the above article, but migraines, when they occur, actually can and do effect one's ability to THINK clearly if they are severe enough. Comparing migraines to other ailments is pointless. You may as well try to compare a stubbed toe with a skull fracture.

    Regardless, I would not vote for Bachmann – way too many other reasons than migraines for her not to get a vote from me.

    July 21, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jay Horn

    @Ridiculous: And Obama is not an Idiot?

    July 21, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • umm

      Nope. Not even close.

      July 21, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bob

    I love how the Bachmann disciples have tried to steer the conversation. It's not that people disbelieved her when she says that her migraines are painful. She used her migraines as an excuse as to why she wasn't doing things she was supposed to be doing (like voting, attending committee meetings, etc.). She's used the migraine excuse on more than one occasion to avoid answering tough questions. So the natural question was "If migraines are causing you to neglect so many of your duties as a member of Congress, wouldn't you have just as much if not more trouble meeting your duties as President?" Also, given how Republicans like Bachmann think anybody getting any sort of consideration or assistance for a medical condition are lazy- it is the height of hypocrisy that she falls back on the "I have a medical condition". Not to mention that the bulk of her income from the last decade has come from tax payers in the form of government subsides for her sham farm, grants to her religious cult clinic, or her salary as a politician.

    July 21, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
  11. AGuest9

    @Jay Horn. How could you compare him to his predecessor, who showed time and time and time again that HE WAS an idiot (and the fool re-elected him), even to that point of not being able to govern? His VP did most of the decision-making!

    July 21, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jay Horn

    And how did Obama get his income? If not from taxpayers. He never held a real job.

    July 21, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • umm

      Ah, pulling out the Talking Points, I see.
      I dare you to tell another community organizer that he or she doesn't have a "real job". If it's so easy, why don't you try it yourself?
      Beyond that, he was a college lecturer and a SENATOR. I suppose those aren't "real jobs" in your book, either, right?

      July 21, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • chgovoter

      During his brief time in IL senate, he mostly voted "PRESENT". Like now, indecisive, no leadership skills. Unqualified.

      Hillary was right.. "Empty suit". – OBAMA offered her Sec of State for the brains he lacked and prevent her from

      challenging him in the next election.

      July 22, 2011 at 1:36 am | Report abuse |
  13. loca

    Common triggers of migraines, per Wikipedia, are stress, hunger, and fatigue (these equally contribute to tension headaches). Isn't it stressful to be in politics, particularly being a President?!!!

    July 21, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. elove

    Would like 2 c woman as prez just not her or palin hoped clinton til she gave 28 million to somalia when we dont have money for bills much less any thing else bring it back to us

    July 21, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brady

      I wouldn't mind it either, but hopefully they have better grammar skills than you do.

      July 21, 2011 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Kevin

    You know there's not a lot going on in The U.S. when Michele Bachmann getting migraines is top news. Either that, or Newscasters should get their priorities straight.

    July 21, 2011 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
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