Health and Medical History of President

James Monroe

President #5
Lived: 1758-1831 Served: 1817-1825

Timeline from 1776: ← 2013

Maladies and Conditions

tall and broad
At age 18 he was "a little over 6 feet tall, with broad shoulders and a massive, raw-boned frame." 1a

gunshot wound
At the Battle of Trenton in 1776, a bullet grazed the left side of Monroe's chest, then hit his shoulder and injured the axillary artery (the major artery bringing blood to the arm). The artery bled profusely. Monroe's life was probably saved by the doctor who stopped the bleeding by sticking his index finger into the wound and applying pressure to the artery. Surgeons later attempted to remove the bullet, but could not find it. Monroe recovered from the wound in 11 weeks, but carried the bullet in his shoulder the rest of his life. 1b

recurrent malaria
Contracted malaria while visiting a swampy are of the Mississippi River in 1785, and became very ill. He had several episodes of fever later in life, which were probably flare-ups of malaria. 1c

In March 1815, Monroe developed a prolonged illness of unknown type. It was apparently due to the strain of his duties, which included both Secretary of State and Secretary of War during the War of 1812 (which lasted until early 1815). His health began improving in the summer of 1815, after he relinquished his responsibilities in the War Department. His appearance improved more slowly. 1c

President Monroe was bedridden with a fever, probably malaria, in early 1818. About this time, a letter from General Andrew Jackson arrived at the White House, asked for permission to capture Florida for the United States. Jackson ultimately did so, but Monroe later claimed no such permission had ever been given. Jackson disagreed. A "massive misunderstanding" had somehow occurred. In fact, Monroe may never have been aware of the letter or its contents. 1d

Monroe had a seizure in August 1825. It was so severe that he was thought to be near death. He recovered, but the cause was never discovered. Possible causes include mushroom poisoning, a stroke, or cerebral malaria. 1e

general decline
When Monroe left the Presidency, he was exhausted and looked much older than his 67 years. 1e

wrist injury
He fell off his horse in 1829 and injured his right wrist. He was unable to keep up with his correspondence for several weeks. 1e

Monroe developed a chronic lung illness in late 1830. In April 1831 he wrote: "My state of health continues, consisting of a cough which annoys me night and day accompanied by considerable expectoration." No specific diagnosis was made, although his doctor recommended a rest at a tuberculosis hospital. Baumgarner writes 1f:
It is known that the illness lasted for several months and involved his lungs progressively. He had a harassing, exhausting cough, and suffered from fever and severe night sweats. His cough was productive of much mucous and at times gushes of blood. As the disease [progressed], his breathing became more difficult. The clinical picture is highly suggestive but is not diagnostic of pulmonary tuberculosis.
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Cited Resources
  1. Bumgarner, John R. The Health of the Presidents: The 41 United States Presidents Through 1993 from a Physician's Point of View. Jefferson, NC: MacFarland & Company, 1994.0899509568 Libraries 93-42000. ap. 32 bpp. 32-33 cp. 33 dpp. 33-34 ep. 34 fp. 35
    Comment: Devotes one chapter to each President, through Clinton. Written for the layperson, well-referenced, with areas of speculation clearly identified, Dr. Zebra depends heavily on this book. Dr. Bumgarner survived the Bataan Death March and has written an unforgettable book casting a physician's eye on that experience.
Other Resources
George Washington · John Adams · Thomas Jefferson · James Madison · James Monroe · John Q. Adams · Andrew Jackson · Martin van Buren · William Harrison · John Tyler · James Polk · Zachary Taylor · Millard Fillmore · Franklin Pierce · James Buchanan · Abraham Lincoln · Andrew Johnson · Ulysses Grant · Rutherford Hayes · James Garfield · Chester Arthur · Grover Cleveland · Benjamin Harrison · William McKinley · Theodore Roosevelt · William Taft · Woodrow Wilson · Warren Harding · Calvin Coolidge · Herbert Hoover · Franklin Roosevelt · Harry Truman · Dwight Eisenhower · John Kennedy · Lyndon Johnson · Richard Nixon · Gerald Ford · James Carter · Ronald Reagan · George Bush · William Clinton · George W. Bush · Barack Obama