Presidential Health: Secrets, Surprises, and Controversies

Albert B. Lowenfels, MD


August 14, 2017

That Stroke, Explained

Figure 5. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Image from Wikimedia.

In addition to being paraplegic from an attack of poliomyelitis dating back to 1921, President Roosevelt (1882-1945) also suffered from severe hypertension and heart disease. In 1944, when he was a candidate for an unprecedented fourth term, serious concerns were raised about Roosevelt's health, even though his personal physician, Vice Admiral Ross T. McIntire, an ear, nose, and throat specialist, stated that his health was "excellent." Concerned for his health, Roosevelt's family asked Dr Howard Bruenn, chief of cardiology at the National Naval Medical Center, to examine the president. Dr Bruenn noted that the patient appeared tired, became short of breath with exertion, and that his blood pressure was 186/108. A chest x-ray revealed cardiac enlargement.[11] Just a few weeks later, his blood pressure was 226/118. Dr Bruenn recommended digitalis, which improved Roosevelt's condition. His personal physicians and various specialists never revealed his precarious health status to the public, fearful that it would weaken his chance for reelection. Roosevelt triumphed over Thomas Dewey in the 1944 election, only to die from a stroke on April 12 in Warm Springs, Georgia, just a few months after his inauguration.


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