For as long as people have been electing politicians into office, the health of electee’s has been shrouded in secrecy. This isn’t a surprise. After all, if you were leading an entire country, you would want everyone to think you were the picture of perfect health, right? But that’s not always the case.
Take for example Woodrow Wilson, who was incapacitated following a stroke while in office, but the public had no idea until months later. Meanwhile, John F. Kennedy suffered a series of medical problems which were kept private with the help of his aides. Politicians suffer from health problems just like us…but some were worse off than others. You won’t believe some of the ailments these presidents and other world leaders suffered from while they were in office.
Grover Cleveland Had A Secret Surgery To Remove A Tumor
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In the summer of 1983, no one knew where President Grover Cleveland was for four days. Due to laissez-faire economics, the country had already been in a state of panic, so his disappearance didn’t help. It turned out that Cleveland was on a friend’s yacht off Cape Cod — but it was anything but relaxing. Cleveland was having a malignant tumor removed from part of his jaw.
Cleveland suffered from different maladies throughout the majority of his life, including his two nonconsecutive terms. He was obese and had both gout and nephritis, which caused his kidneys to become inflamed. He died of a heart attack in 1908.
Andrew Jackson Suffered Chronic Pain From Being Shot…Twice
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Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States, was known for being a national war hero after helping defeat the British in the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. What he was less known for were the emotional and physical ailments he suffered from.
By the time Jackson was inaugurated in 1829, he was 62 years old and already thin and weak. He had recently lost his wife due to a heart attack which put extra stress on the then-POTUS. He suffered from a laundry list of health issues including chronic headaches, poor vision, internal infection, rotting teeth, bleeding in his lungs, and chronic pain — thanks to two different bullet wounds he received.
Up next: The French politician who published false health reports during his presidency.
François Mitterrand Published False Health Reports During His Presidency
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François Mitterrand was President of France from 1981 to 1995 — the longest any French President spent in office. Mitterrand died of prostate cancer just a few months after he finished his final term.
After he passed away in 1996, controversy erupted when Mitterrand’s former physician, Dr. Claude Gubler, released a book called Le Grand Secret. His grand secret? Gubler had published false health reports on Mitterand’s health since November 1981, keeping the president’s cancer a secret. Gubler would go as far to inconspicuously hang intravenous drips from picture hooks and coat hangers in government guest houses so they would not be seen with large pieces of medical equipment. Mitterrand’s family had Gubler and his publisher prosecuted for violating medical confidentiality.
Dwight Eisenhower Had Crohn’s Disease
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The 34th president suffered from chronic abdominal pain which was later diagnosed as Crohn’s disease during his presidency. Although surgery helped alleviate his pain, Eisenhower had bigger health problems to worry about.
By the time he began his second term he looked noticeably older and worn out. This was following a serious heart attack as well as a stroke that he suffered during his first term — both which required extensive hospitalization. Eisenhower continued to push himself and died of congestive heart failure eight years after his presidency.
William Taft’s Weight Battle
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William Taft is known for being one of the largest presidents in history, at one point weighing over 300 pounds. Through dieting, he was able to shed 100 pounds, but his weight yoyo-ed throughout his presidency and the rest of his lifetime.
Taft’s obesity resulted in numerous health issues including sleep apnea, high blood pressure, and heart problems. Sleep apnea disrupted Taft’s sleep and led to chronic fatigue — which sometimes affected his presence at important political meetings. Following his presidency, he succumbed to cardiovascular disease and died in the nation’s capital.
See which politician’s failing health cost him the presidency.
Woodrow Wilson’s Health Cost Him His Presidency
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Woodrow Wilson worked tirelessly during his presidency. He spent months negotiating the Treaty of Versailles and planning for the dawn of the League of Nations. He took on a national speaking tour across the country determined to wage peace and eventually won the Nobel Peace Prize for these efforts. Despite his accomplishments, Wilson didn’t know when to listen to his body.
As the POTUS, he was constantly exhausted but ignored signs of looming health problems until he suffered a series of strokes. The strokes left him paralyzed on the left side of his body, and he was forced to use a wheelchair. What’s interesting though is that the public had no idea that he was in a wheelchair for quite some time. Once his secret was uncovered, Woodrow had to give up his title due to the 25th Amendment, which states that the Vice President will take power if the president dies, resigns, or becomes disabled.
See how John F. Kennedy kept his life-threatening disease a secret next.
John F. Kennedy Kept His Life-Threatening Disease Secret
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Some politicians are able to hide their health issues better than others. John F. Kennedy was one of them. Although he was young when he took office and projected an image of youth and energy, he was afflicted by serious medical problems. Most notably, Kennedy suffered from Addison’s disease, which is a life-threatening and incurable condition that affects the adrenal glands. With the help of his aides, he was able to conceal his illness from the public.
Kennedy also suffered from chronic back pain and severe anxiety and eventually developed an addiction to painkillers, stimulants, and antianxiety medications. He was assassinated on November 22, 1963, at just 46 years old.
Warren Harding Suffered From Mental Illness
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Warren Harding, the 24th President of the United States, promised that the United States would “return to normalcy” under his term. But few knew that Harding lived with various mental disorders, which would gravely impact his presidential term and ultimately lead to his death less than two years after his inauguration.
Harding spent a significant amount of time in a sanitarium between 1921 and 1923 to recover from fatigue and nervousness, but this did little to help him. His mental health struggles led to excessive weight gain, insomnia, and exhaustion. He died suddenly and unexpectedly from heart failure after playing golf in 1923.
Warren Harding isn’t the only politician who suffered from mental illness, as you’ll soon see.
Ronald Reagan Was Considered Medically Unfit By Many
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Ronald Reagan was the first president who was considered by some to be medically unfit for the job. He was already 70 years old by the time he started his first presidential term and suffered from frequent urinary tract infections and had to undergo surgery to remove prostate stones.
The POTUS also developed temporomandibular joint disease and arthritis. During the second to last year of his presidency, Reagan had serious prostate surgery as well as surgeries to remove skin cancers.
George H.W. Bush’s Many Maladies
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George H.W. Bush is still alive today but suffered from some serious ailments throughout his life and his presidency. He almost died when he was a teenager after getting a dangerous staph infection. Then, when he was a naval aviator, he was exposed to head and lung trauma. This may have been why the former president developed numerous bleeding ulcers, arthritis, and cysts while in The White House.
Bush’s medical maladies didn’t stop there. He was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation as a result of hyperthyroidism and suffers from Graves disease.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Didn’t Want The Public To Know He Was Disabled
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Before Franklin D. Roosevelt served as president from 1933 to 1945, he was diagnosed with polio in 1921. The disease left him unable to stand or walk without support, but he went on to serve 12 consecutive years as president. Although Roosevelt never outright denied his disability, he did his best to keep the public from seeing him in a wheelchair.
Before his death in 1945, a series of hospital tests revealed that Roosevelt had high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, angina pectoris and congestive heart failure. Despite his declining health, the then-POTUS and his team did everything they could to hide his condition from the public. His physician, Admiral Ross McIntire, even told reporters, “The president’s health is perfectly OK. There are absolutely no organic difficulties at all.”
Konstantin Chernenko Led The Soviet Union For Just Three Months Before Passing
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Konstantin Chernenko was a Soviet politician who served as the fifth General Secretary of the Communist Party. A heavy smoker since he was nine years old, Chernenko wasn’t exactly the picture of perfect health. He had emphysema and right-side heart failure and was absent from his duties for three months due to bronchitis, pleurisy, and pneumonia.
Despite concerns over Chernenko’s health, he replaced Yuri Andropov as the leader of the Soviet Union in February 1984. He died just three months later from a combination of chronic emphysema, congestive heart failure, and cirrhosis of the liver.
Winston Churchill’s “Black Dog”
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Winston Churchill is widely regarded as one of the greatest leaders of his time — but Churchill suffered from serious mental illness, including bipolar disorder, while in office. Churchill went through prolonged periods of depression, which he referred to as his “black dog.” During these bouts he would experience manic-depressive episodes, cycling through periods of little energy and loss of appetite to high energy and restlessness.
Still, Churchill accepted his mental illness and worked hard to benefit society. It is believed that his experience with bipolar disorder helped him take a realistic and empathetic approach when working with citizens.
Fidel Castro Recognized His Failing Physical Condition
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Fidel Castro governed the Republic of Cuba as Prime Minister from 1959 to 1976 after which he was President until 2008. The communist revolutionary was hospitalized in 2008 for intestinal bleeding, after which then-POTUS George W. Bush said, “One day, the good Lord will take Fidel Castro away.”
While Bush wasn’t granted his wish, the public soon realized just how sick Castro really was. The tyrant stepped down from political power soon after issuing this statement: “It would betray my conscience to take up a responsibility that requires mobility and total devotion, that I am not in a physical condition to offer.”
He died in 2016.
Tony Blair Down Played His Heart Condition
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Tony Blair was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1997 to 2007. Blair wasn’t shy about placing significant emphasis on how fit and healthy he was. While in office he would regularly speak of his healthy lifestyle and would even share his weight with the public.
Then in 2004, he was rushed to the hospital after complaining of chest pains and an irregular heartbeat. Although Blair recovered, he downplayed the seriousness of his condition, in fear of ruining his healthy image. “It’s not particularly alarming, but it’s something that you should get fixed – it’s a routine procedure,” he said following his ER visit. “I’ve had it for the last couple of months, and it’s not impeded me doing my work and feeling fine, but it is as well to get it done.”
Prime Minister Gordon Brown Came Under Scrutiny For His Vision Problems
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Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, has suffered vision problems since a rugby accident left him blind in one eye. He also has a retinal detachment in his other eye, which makes him fearful of one day being completely blind. During his time in office, he got into a heated conversation with Andrew Marr on BBC TV. In the interview, Marr intrusively pressed Brown about his health, clearly to get a rise from the politician.
“Although I have problems with my eyes and it has been very difficult over the years, I think people understand that you can do a job and you can work hard,” Brown calmly said. “And I think it would be a terrible indictment of our political system if you thought that because someone had this medical issue, they couldn’t do the job.”
Theresa May’s Life With Diabetes Mellitus
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Theresa May is the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party. In 2017, May revealed that she has diabetes mellitus and has been living with the disease since 2012. Although she has to have up to five insulin injections each day, she has publicly stressed that is doesn’t impact her performance.
“The fact is that you can still do whatever you want to do. For example, on holiday my husband and I do a lot of quite strenuous walking up mountains in Switzerland, and it doesn’t stop me doing it,” she said. “I can still do things like that and can still do the job.”
Harold Wilson’s Battle With Colon Cancer
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British Prime Minister Harold Wilson served from 1964 to 1970 and again from 1974 to 1976. During his second term, the leader suffered from serious symptoms which were later diagnosed as colon cancer.
It’s suspected that Wilson also suffered from Alzheimer’s while in office. Neurologist Dr. Peter Garrard analyzed the then-POTUS’ speech patterns and thought he was showing early signs of Alzheimer’s. His suspicions turned out to be true and Wilson resigned in 1976, citing mental and physical exhaustion. He died in May 1995.
Hillary Clinton’s Pneumonia Sparked Conspiracy Theories
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During her 2016 campaign, Hillary Clinton’s doctor announced she had pneumonia, and the media had a field day. Things got so out of hand that some conservatives started fuelling outlandish conspiracy theories about Clinton’s health in an attempt to disqualify her from the presidency. WikiLeaks even polled followers to weigh in on if they thought her symptoms were caused by allergies, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, a head injury, or just her personality.
Of course, Donald Trump didn’t waste any time using Clinton’s illness to his advantage, even posing to an Ohio rally, ” “I don’t know folks, do you think Hillary Clinton would be able to stand up here for an hour? I don’t know.” Clinton made a full recovery.
Donald Trump’s Doctor Misrepresented His The POTUS’s Health
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In December 2015, Trump’s private physician, Dr. Harold Bornstein, released a brief letter declaring Trump’s “extraordinary” stamina and physical strength. He added that if elected, Trump would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” Right away, the public couldn’t help but notice how Trump-esque the letter sounded.
Dr. Bornstein was Trump’s physician for 36 years but soon fell out of his good graces when he revealed to the public that the POTUS takes medication for hair growth. With their relationship severed, Bornstein wasn’t shy about airing the POTUS’s dirty laundry. Mainly, that the previous letters he wrote regarding Trump’s health were dictated by Trump. “He dictated that whole letter. I didn’t write that letter,” Bornstein told CNN in May 2018. “I just made it up as I went along.”