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. Name*marilu

    Whenever I hear words come out of her mouth I get an instant migraine!!!

    July 21, 2011 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lets Produce

      Her migraines are of great interest to science. They can not understand how one without a brain would get migraines

      July 21, 2011 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Joe Fattal

    If she see that her chances to become President are slim and the polls showing a drop in the rating, she will use her migraine headache as a factor for her losses. They have medications for headaches. And besides with all the children she has foster children or not she should have a headache.

    July 21, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Name*marilu

    Whenever I hear her speak I get an instant migraine!

    July 21, 2011 at 10:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Gay Horn

    @Jay Horn:
    I don't know what your deal is, but absolutely every one of your posts are full of hate-filled, vitriolic rhetoric. You have nothing to contribute except hate, hate, hate. The topic could be about bunny rabbits and baby ducks, and you would still ind a way to insert your twisted view of politics into it. At first, you actually seemed to have a POV that had some diversity to it, but now, your nastiness is no better than the "right-wing thugs" trolls; you just use your own name. You, sir, are an ass, and I rue the day you discovered these blogs.
    And, for the record, I am a member of the GOP, but rabid people like you make me ashamed of my party. Just. Shut. Up. Please!

    July 21, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • chgovoter

      Member of GOP? Yeah, tell us another one.

      July 22, 2011 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  5. Virgil

    Disgusted that Kennedy's face would be used in ANY article describing this radical theocrat. I understand the comparison to ailments, but still.

    July 21, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
  6. John

    My cat used to get really bad migraines. Turned out to be the tuna.

    July 21, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Nova703

    Politics aside, as someone who knows about migranes....some are manageable and some are so bad that you need to stay alone in a dark room for days. If it is true that Ms Bachmann was hospitalized 3 times for migranes I have serous doubts that she can handle the stress of being POTUS.

    July 21, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ***dude***

    Mortals, all mere mortals

    July 21, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Fred S.

    There are four Presidents who should have been diqualified for mental illness. Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and Warren G. Harding each had had two instances of clinical depression before they became President of the United States. This would put them in the same category as Sen. Thomas Eagleton.

    July 21, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cindy

      Mental Illness is just as maneable as migraines!

      July 22, 2011 at 11:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bar S

    Near election time, everyone wants to use the Kennedy connection. This is ridiculous and a cheap play.

    July 21, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
  11. andy

    I love that CNN took the bate on this. Of course her having migraines isn't a bad thing, and presidents have had worse problems in the past. Lets just focus on the real problem... she's running for president.

    July 21, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Darth Vader Mentor

    I am very sorry she has migraines. If they do force her into a hospital on a recurring and unpredictable basis then it is a detriment to her capabilities as a potential commander in chief or the vice-presidency.

    I am however, more concerned (to the level that she lost my vote) that a candidate who advocates a religious conservative position would quietly leave her church of decades to run for the Presidency. That shows me she was not true to her church membership vows and points to a common disease among those who try to join religion and politics and appear to be holier than thou: being a severe hiprocrite, liar and using deception to cover the lust of power.

    She needs to get in front of this, come clean and explain all of these facts to avoid losing.

    July 21, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Don

    If McCain had NOT chosen Palin, I wouldn't have cared who won.

    July 21, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • chgovoter

      I voted for McCain because of PALIN!

      Obama did nothing for Illinois. Obama's extensive travel around the country on Air Force One is to figure out exactly how many states we have. Fool.

      July 22, 2011 at 1:03 am | Report abuse |
  14. descarado

    It is rather hilarious how Bachmann and Palin cause the Obamatron zombies to throw a hissy fit and set their hair on fire. It must be PENIS ENVY because both of those ladies seem to have the cojones sorely missing in the weenie-boy gamer generation (that voted for Obama), the most lackluster and useless generation of American males in the country's history. Give their female peers some credit, they have made broad gains acquiring skills that make them marketable and useful in the modern world.

    July 21, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • NiceDoubleWide

      I am a middle aged woman who has never played a video game in my life and I would never in a million years vote for any ticket with Palin or Bachmann on it because they perpetuate the stereotype that women are stupid. Neither of them can open their mouths without saying something that falls apart under the most cursory of fact checks and then they argue to the death that they were either misrepresented or that they didn't actually say the recorded idiotic comment. Not being able to pronounce "g"s at the end of a word, shooting animals from a helicopter, and collecting foster children are not particularly marketable skills. That's why both of them are in politics.

      July 22, 2011 at 4:32 am | Report abuse |
  15. gwats

    I worked many brilliant men and Women in my 30+ years of earning a living who suffered from bad backs, were locked in wheelchairs, or suffered from Migraines. Never judge a book by it's cover. I judge Bachmann by her crazy ideas, and her vision of an America that is Lilly White at the Center.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
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