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. HL_guy

    Y'all are missing the real story here- the ol'boys network running the GOP knows she can't win, but sees the polls and is spreading rumors about a ginned-up 'health issue' to make her seem unfit. Mitt Romney is The Anointed One, and there's nothing the establishment won't do to kick the legs out from under her and her fellow Teafolk, so that he gets the nom.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:21 am | Report abuse |
    • RealDeal McCoy

      Yahoo news is turning into a rag. Anyone who has had experience with migraines knows that they can be quite incapacitating. If she is mentally out of it for even a relatively short period of time due to the headaches then she should be out. Actually, she is already out of it every time she opens her mouth it seems, but that's another issue.

      July 22, 2011 at 3:29 am | Report abuse |
  2. Bar S

    Just hand her a microphone and that will take care of it. Media loves it though. And yep, they all miss the right story.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:30 am | Report abuse |
    • allisonis a 39e

      I know you hate women, and I won't hold it against you.
      Too bad.

      July 22, 2011 at 3:55 am | Report abuse |
  3. Gay Horn

    Descarado, you are just as big an ass as Jay Horn is. Or do you just like the word penis?

    July 22, 2011 at 12:55 am | Report abuse |
  4. Common Sense Clyde

    I loathe the 2 party system. Things will never improve as long as the winner is always predetermined.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:59 am | Report abuse |
  5. Trish

    Hey, will you guys visit HelpFaye.ORG a friend of mine is fighting for her life... Thank you

    July 22, 2011 at 1:25 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jay Horn

    Hey left wing idiot, you are not going to shut me up. You liberals can spew all kinds of derogatory comments about tea party , republican party, and conservitives but if somebody counter attacks you, you call them hatefull and racists. All of you liberals are hypocrits.

    July 22, 2011 at 1:29 am | Report abuse |
    • ronnie ray gun

      Hey right wing idiot. Take a grammar class. Rupert Murdoch isn't interested in supporting uneducated trailer trash like you, but yet you support him. Fox News, which I know you worship.... I mean Faux News, understands this and exploits this but you and Glenn Beck, who they fired after his ratings tanked, of course because he is a fraud. i KNOW YOU WON'T RESPOND BECAUSE YOU ARE BEING EXPOSED

      July 22, 2011 at 2:36 am | Report abuse |
    • RealDeal McCoy

      For you to shut up is good advice. Take it. The tea party is just a reactionary bunch of white people afraid of change. I wish they would go back into their closet before they mess the country up with their foolishness. A lot of conservatives and tea party members are racist........they're a lot of aging white males with a few token black and minority idiots thrown in. Conservatives hate the truth and lie about others intentions and tactics with their ad hominem attacks and scare tactics. OOOOh I'm scared!!!!!! I better listen to these liars.

      July 22, 2011 at 3:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      How about both of you quit being so obnoxious... This is why there is no conclusions to any problems. Everyone blames it on each of the parties, and overall there is no resolution... This crap about right and left wing liberals and conservatives doesn't mean crap, it is a senseless argument. Have a brain and find out that the most left and right wing states are impoverished with debt... Neither side works, there needs to be a consensus; a middle ground.

      July 22, 2011 at 6:15 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jay Horn

    Amen chgovoter

    July 22, 2011 at 1:52 am | Report abuse |
  8. Breeze

    I guess if that android Dick Chaney V.P. could make it through two terms then maybe weirdo chick Bachman can too.

    July 22, 2011 at 2:19 am | Report abuse |
    • ronnie ray gun


      July 22, 2011 at 2:40 am | Report abuse |
  9. Breeze

    Bonkers Bachman will never ever experience in the White House because she'll never get there. All she and Palin needs are red rubber noses and exploding shoes BOOOOMM!!!!!! HERE COMES THE CIRCUS..

    July 22, 2011 at 2:29 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jay Horn

    If I were uneducated trailer trash I would be a liberal democrat on welfare sponging on the taxpayer. As for my grammar, so I misspelled one word (conservative). At least I have a job unlike you left wing idiot. And Murdock contributed more to Obama's campaign than to McCains. Glen Beck left on his own to start his own network.

    July 22, 2011 at 3:21 am | Report abuse |
    • NiceDoubleWide

      The fact that you think that you only misspelled one word is proving his point. What's so funny is that the text box actually underlines the words that you've misspelled in RED.
      conservitives hatefull hypocrits.

      July 22, 2011 at 4:18 am | Report abuse |
  11. Aardis

    You guys in the US of A never.stop talking about elections. It's just amazing. Obama or any president starts his two to four year term of office and before you know it and before he can barely get his policies going , people are ready to bury him and start getting new candidates running in the next elections coming two to four years later. HELP and OUCH! Give the guy a break!. The Americans were screwed by two Bushes and got away with double jeapardy. That right there was a crime. We Canadians have short and sweet elections. The primeminister calls an election and after one month or less of campaigning we vote and that's it. AMEN . I think that we spend a LOT LESS time and money and headache on the whole process. And don't get me started on ANY of those republicans, Palin and the headache lady what's her name, can give me a migraine any and every day. They would rather see the country fall into another recession and screw you all over again than agree with and help the country try to re-balance itself. The US and your greedy bankers and CEO's are the ones who screwed up the world and sent it into its past and present tailspin. Send all of the repubs to Mars. They are needed there.

    July 22, 2011 at 3:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Phinoy

      Eh, you're not even from USA. You start off by bashing USA. I'm not sure you have the right to even have an opinion about ANY presidential candidate over here in USA. Stick to your own country please before bashing ours.

      July 22, 2011 at 7:12 am | Report abuse |
  12. CNN Stereotype

    Never has there been a man running under the 'democrat' banner that wasn't honest and true, and some of their women feel the same way about them.

    July 22, 2011 at 5:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Phinoy

      "...I did not have a $exual relationship with that woman."

      July 22, 2011 at 7:15 am | Report abuse |
  13. single wide

    Not as fat and twice as cozy.

    July 22, 2011 at 5:31 am | Report abuse |
  14. List of Presidents

    Left off of CNN's list is mention of any candidates who have suffered from obesity or sezx addiction, two of the most commonplace maladies to be found among democrats seeking office. Republicans? One mention of heart disease pretty much sums it up for them. They can be a cold, hard hearted bunch can't they.

    July 22, 2011 at 5:45 am | Report abuse |
  15. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    Writers here are accusing Jay Horn of the same thing that they throw at me, "hate, hate, hate."
    How stupid!
    It doesn't mean that I "hate" you if I don't want to give you my money.
    It just means that I don't owe you one penny, because you didn't do anything at all for me, so there's no reason for me to give you my money.
    If you contributed ANYTHING to the world you would be earning your own money, which, BTW, you would then want to spend on yourself, not on me.
    Also, don't tell me that you just want us all "to share."
    You don't bring enough pots to the pot-luck party.
    If I have over two million dollars in the bank and you have two hundred seventy-four dollars and thirty-four cents in the bank, how can you contend that it is equitable for us "to share?"
    That's a drop-the-hankie con game for confused imbeciles.
    My common sense in recognizing that communism and socialism are con games is not "hate."

    July 22, 2011 at 6:30 am | Report abuse |
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