5 Serious Health Issues that Plagued Former U.S. Presidents

February 16, 2014
by Michael Barber
5 Serious Health Issues that Plagued Former U.S. Presidents

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a waitress or the President of the United States, everyone has health problems. Some are easily handled by heading to urgent care, while others are more serious, like these health problems that U.S. Presidents have faced.


While in office, Ronald Reagan dealt with a few health problems. In 1985, cancerous polyps were found and removed from his colon, causing him to relinquish presidential power to his Vice President for a total of eight hours while he was incapacitated. Later that year, he had surgery to remove cancerous skin cells from his nose.

He wasn’t the only one U.S. President to deal with cancer. Other presidents include Grover Cleveland, who had jaw cancer; Herbert Hoover, who had intestinal cancer; Ulysses Grant, who had throat cancer; and William Clinton, who had basal cell carcinoma.


After contracting polio in 1921, Franklin Roosevelt became paralyzed from the waist down. Despite using iron leg braces, walking with a cane, and using a wheelchair while in private, he convinced others that he was getting better.

After he was elected in 1932, his disability was considered taboo and was never mentioned in the press or in political cartoons all while the Secret Service prevented photographers from taking pictures of him in a wheelchair. Despite this and other health problems, President Roosevelt was the only president to be elected to four terms, which led to the 22nd Amendment barring anyone from serving more than two terms as President.


According to an article published in 2006, 11 of the 43 United States Presidents have suffered from strokes. Of those, three suffered strokes while in office: Presidents Wilson, Eisenhower, and Franklin Roosevelt. In 1919, Woodrow Wilson had a series of strokes that left him paralyzed on one side. His wife tried to cover up the seriousness of his condition, and it wasn’t fully revealed until five months later. 

On April 12, 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared, “I have a terrific pain in the back of my head” and slumped forward unconscious. He was diagnosed as having had a stroke (a massive cerebral hemorrhage) and died that day at 3:35 p.m.

Heart Attacks

Warren Harding’s health had started declining in the fall of 1922. Dr. Emmanuel Libman had suggested to President Harding that he might be dealing with coronary disease after having dinner with him. While traveling around the country in August 1923, Harding died in California, many believing the cause to be a heart attack.

President Eisenhower dealt with quite a few health problems while in office. In 1955 while on a vacation to Colorado, he suffered a heart attack and was in the hospital for six weeks. This led to a ventricular aneurysm in his heart, which then led to a stroke in 1957.

Autoimmune Diseases

President George H. W. Bush was diagnosed with Graves’ disease during his presidency. It is an autoimmune disease that causes the thyroid to enlarge and produce excessive amounts of thyroid hormones. President Bush got immediate care through an oral dose of radioactive iodine to kill the thyroid.

If you’re worried about any of these health issues, consult your primary care physician. If it’s something that can't wait, walk-in clinics and urgent care centers are available without appointments.