Health and Medical History of President

William Clinton

President #42
Lived: 1946-Date Served: 1993-2001

Timeline from 1776: ← 2013

Maladies and Conditions

tonsillectomy
Bill Clinton had a tonsillectomy in 1952, at age 6 5a.

GE reflux
Clinton "has been troubled by gastrointestinal symptoms which have been attributed to reflux esophagitis." These symptoms included "bouts of heartburn" 5b. Treatment included elimination of certain foods (e.g. caffeine), antacid medication, and sleeping on a wedge 5c. As Clinton prepared to leave office, his medical regimen was simplified because afterwards "he will be in charge of taking his own medications" MORE.

Comment: The condition has several other names, including gastroesophageal reflux, GE reflux, and GERD.


rectal bleeding
Clinton underwent colonoscopy in 1984 because of rectal bleeding. It showed "no evidence of significant pathology including polyps or tumorous growths" 5d.

strained knee ligament
Left knee ligament strain in 1984 5b.

cardiac risk
Clinton's cholesterol level, and, more generally, his overall cardiovascular risk, were a concern as early as 1992. Details are summarized on an accessory web page, where Dr. Zebra does some rather unattractive ranting, but it's in the good cause of getting more people to take statin medications... MORE.

In sum, Clinton had five exercise tolerance tests while President; it was felt at his last Presidential physical examination (in 2001) that another such test was unwarranted. He started taking simvastatin (Zocor) at that time, because of elevated cholesterol levels, as discussed in a press conference MORE.

In September 2004 Clinton needed urgent coronary bypass surgery (see below).


height & weight
Clinton is 6 feet 2 inches tall, or perhaps 6 feet 2.5 inches tall 10. From 1992 to 2001 his weight varied from 236 to 214 pounds MORE. The lower height and a weight of 226 gives him a body mass index of 29.1 kg/m/m -- overweight, but not quite obese.

After leaving office, Clinton was on the South Beach diet for an unknown time, and did lose weight 11 -- and then needed a bypass operation.


hearing aids
bilateral

vocal cords
For a year before the 1992 election, an otolaryngologist managed the frequent hoarseness Clinton would get from voice overuse. Nasal allergies and reflux esophagitis were felt to contribute to the problem 5e.

allergic rhinitis
Before his election, at least, Clinton was taking Hismanal (astemizole) for "environmental allergies." Consequences of his allergic rhinitis included: "sinus congestion, nasal drainage, and occasional swelling of the temporal area." A sinus window was surgically constructed in 1979 5b.

An allergist evaluated him in autumn 1991 and reported 5e:

He [Clinton] has a history of nasal congestion, swelling of his eyes, and difficulty breathing through his nose. His nasal congestion was so severe in the spring of 1991 that he had difficulty running. There is no history of wheezing, asthma, or severe allergic reaction. His signs and symptoms are worse in the fall. He is noted to be a nonsmoker.
Skin testing showed moderate reactions to house dust, mold spores, cat dander, weed pollen, grass pollen, beef, and milk. Allergy injections were prescribed, and he tolerated them well. By 1992 "he was on the usual maintenance dose and was taking his injections every two weeks, depending on symptoms" 5b.

Clinton continued to have allergy symptoms while President.


refused anthrax vaccine
The day after the U.S. military announced it would vaccinate its members against anthrax in 1997, President Clinton said he did not plan to be vaccinated 6.

Editorial: Dr. Zebra is a little bitter over this failure of leadership. Clinton's refusal lent credence to the crackpots and conspiracy theorists who used anthrax vaccination to sow suspicion and discontent in the military. (To his credit, Secretary of Defense Cohen was immunized.)


counseling
"In 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for President, up came the question of psychiatric history. No, was the reply; he had received counselling for some stressful family matters, but no psychiatric treatment. After revelations of Clinton's White House escapades, he announced a self-prescribed treatment course: periodic meetings with three clergymen to obtain guidance for his return to marital rectitude" 8. Mrs. Clinton has commented that, beginning after August 1998, "We spent a lot of time in counseling, and I found it very helpful" 7.

torn knee tendon
At the home of golfer Greg Norman in March 1997, Clinton caught his heel on a step and tore 50% of his right quadriceps tendon. (The tendon connects the kneecap to the quadriceps muscle of the thigh.) Clinton heard the tear as a "very loud pop." He underwent a two-hour operation under regional anesthesia to repair the tendon, followed by weeks with a knee brace and crutches 1.

Had the operation required general anesthesia, Clinton had planned to transfer Presidential authority to Vice President Gore under terms of the 25th Amendment 2. Clinton was awake during the entire operation and "was alert most of the time" 1.


cyst removed
A benign cyst was removed from Clinton's chest in 1995. Comment: Based on comments after Clinton's 2001 physical examination, this seems to have been a sebaceous cyst. MORE

nose lesion removed
A precancerous growth on the skin of Clinton's nose was removed in 1996 with liquid nitrogen. Comment: Based on comments after Clinton's 2001 physical examination, this seems to have been an actinic keratosis MORE.

basal cell carcinoma
Biopsy of a lesion on Clinton's back, discovered during a routine physical examination on January 12, 2001, disclosed basal cell carcinoma. It was removed in January 2001, to little fanfare. MORE

acne rosacea
At his 2001 physical, this was described as "well controlled" MORE.

coronary bypass
On Sept. 2, 2004, Clinton was evaluated at Northern Westchester Hospital in New York for chest pain and shortness of breath. Results were normal, and Clinton went home. The next day, further evaluation at the Westchester Medical Center (probably a cardiac angiogram) led to the recommendation for urgent four-vessel coronary bypass grafting 11. MORE

Clinton ultimately underwent successful bypass.

Comment: Apparently Clinton had unstable angina, not a heart attack. Dr. Zebra has not, however, seen this explicitly mentioned in published reports. Angina (a type of chest discomfort) occurs when heart muscle is starved for oxygen. This starvation may or may not cause part of the starved muscle to die. By contrast, a heart attack ("myocardial infarction") has occurred when part of the heart muscle has died, however small. Blood tests are the best way to distinguish angina from a heart attack.


decortication surgery
On March 10, 2005 Clinton had an elective operation to correct a complication of his coronary bypass. Called "decortication," the operation removed part of the lining around the lower lobe of the left lung, the lining having become much thicker than usual as a result of the irritation caused by the bypass 4. He tolerated the operation well 3.
Odds & Ends
Resources
 
Clinton
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Cited Resources
  1. (CNN). Clinton should recover fully from knee surgery. CNN.com. March 14, 1997.
  2. (CNN). White House doctors: the President's shadow. CNN.com. September 24, 2004.
  3. Associated Press. Clinton 'glad to be home' after second operation. Washington Post. March 15, 2005; page A3.
    Comment: Accessed from Washingtonpost.com
  4. Brown, David. Clinton to undergo follow-up chest surgery. Washington Post. March 9, 2005; page A2.
    Comment: Accessed from Washingtonpost.com
  5. 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. app. 297, 298 bp. 298 cp. 300 dpp. 298-299 ep. 299 fp. 297
    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.
  6. Findlay, S. Clinton sees little anthrax threat to civilians. USA Today. December 17, 1997.
  7. Gibbs, Nancy. Interview: "I had to ask myself whether I would stay married". Time. June 16, 2003, pages 28-29.
  8. Greenberg, DS. Hale to the chief. Lancet. 1999;353:1894.
  9. Kelly, Virginia. Leading with My Heart. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1994.0671888005 Libraries.
    Comment: This was reported by a reader. I have not checked the reference myself.
  10. Mathews J. The shrinking field. Washington Post. August 3, 1999. Page C1.
  11. Milbank, D. Bill Clinton to undergo heart bypass surgery. Washington Post. washingtonpost.com on September 3, 2004 at 3:25pm.
  12. Time Magazine Staff. Hillary unbound. Time. June 16, 2003; page 28.
    Comment: This magazine article is an excerpt of Mrs. Clinton's book Living History.
  13. Web page: http://www.doctorzebra.com/madcow/details.html
    Comment: Another fascinating web page from Dr. Zebra!
Other Resources
Alternate index terms: William Jefferson Clinton, Bill Clinton, William Jefferson Blythe
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