Every U.S. President & Every Medical Problem They've Ever Had

The health of US Presidents is a well-kept secret, especially while they’re in office. The public is on a need-to-know basis, and, generally speaking, the government doesn't think the public needs to know at all – especially when it comes to presidents' illnesses. From George Washington to Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama, presidents have suffered from various ailments before, during, and after holding their positions. Considering how unwell some of these guys were, it's amazing they accomplished anything at all during their first 100 days in office.

Some presidents were pretty healthy from a young age; others were sickly during their whole lives, and others were plagued with maladies on and off – no actual instances of plague, though, luckily. However, some of these presidential ailments might just surprise you.

Photo: Metaweb / GNU Free Documentation License

  • George Washington
    Photo: patrickhashley / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    The Short List: Malaria, diphtheria, pneumonia, dysentery, tonsillitis, smallpox, carbuncles, far-sightedness, hearing loss, throat infection, depression, loss of teeth

    In addition to his famously problematic oral health, George Washington suffered from several illnesses throughout his life. At the age of 17, he contracted malaria and continued to suffer bouts of it until his death. He was afflicted with diphtheria, pneumonia, dysentery, and tonsillitis, mostly when he was in the military. Washington was also in close proximity to tuberculosis while in Barbados at the age of 19, and this may account for his purported sterility. Washington suffered carbuncles, far-sightedness, and was losing his hearing during the late 1780s. It’s unclear exactly what Washington died from, but speculation is that he had a bacterial infection of his epiglottis that led to suffocation.  He may have also had pneumonia.

    • Age: Dec. at 67 (1732-1799)
    • Birthplace: Virginia, United States of America
  • John Adams
    Photo: Asher Brown Durand / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    The Short List: Respiratory infections, smallpox, indigestion, dyspepsia, depression, somatization, substance abuse, rheumatism

    While small in stature, John Adams was in relatively good health as a boy. However, he suffered from a severe respiratory infection during his first year at Harvard, and, upon receiving the smallpox vaccine in 1764, he came down with symptoms of the disease. He complained of stomach upset, acid reflux, and depression often, and, during his presidency, he experienced somatization – AKA physical symptoms associated with psychological issues – during periods of extreme stress. During one particular incident, he was comatose for five days. He also developed a tremor, which may have been stress related too. Adams enjoyed alcohol, chewing tobacco, and smoking. He lost his hair and his teeth, and the lack of the latter caused a mild speech impediment. He had rheumatism late in life, and, to the best of any estimation, he died of old age (at 90!) in 1826

    • Age: Dec. at 90 (1735-1826)
    • Birthplace: Braintree, Massachusetts, United States of America
  • The Short List: Dysentery, depression, back injury, broken wrists, enlarged prostate, rheumatism, skin sores, hearing loss, indigestion, psychological condition

    Thomas Jefferson experienced severe headaches at various points during his life, some of which lasted for weeks at a time. He suffered from dysentery, depression, and a debilitating back injury during his pre-presidential days, as well as a severe wrist injury that never fully healed. While president, Jefferson developed a severe jaw infection, but he always claimed that he never lost any of his teeth to age. Late in life, he may have had an enlarged prostate.  He was rheumatic, had boils, wore glasses, lost much of his hearing, and once suffered from what was called life-threatening constipation. His death, however, was mostly likely the result of diarrhea. Due to his intellect and eccentricities, there has been speculation that he suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome or some other form of autism.

    • Age: Dec. at 83 (1743-1826)
    • Birthplace: Shadwell, Virginia, United States of America
  • James Madison
    Photo: John Vanderlyn / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    The Short List: Speech impediment, arthritis, inflamed gallbladder, epilepsy, frostbite

    Considered ‘frail’ throughout his life, James Madison avoided contracting any serious illnesses simply by avoiding travel to locations where disease was common. During his 30s, Madison complained of a speech impediment that prevented him from delivering public addresses. He experienced frostbite on his nose during the 1790s, and, once he reached middle age, he was afflicted with arthritis and an inflammation of his gallbladder. Madison may have had a form of epilepsy, as sources indicate that he suffered from attacks that resembled seizures. There is some speculation that these were psychologically caused. As he aged, Madison’s skin took on a yellow hue; he became puffy around his eyes; he lost his hearing and his sight; and he became feeble-minded before dying of old age.

    • Age: Dec. at 85 (1751-1836)
    • Birthplace: Port Conway, Virginia, United States of America
  • The Short List: Bullet wound, malaria, fever, seizure, exhaustion, wrist injury, lung disease

    In contrast to tiny little James Madison, James Monroe was over six feet tall and of a strong build. He was shot in the shoulder at the Battle of Trenton in 1776 and carried the bullet in his body for the rest of his life. He contracted malaria in 1785 and suffered recurrent attacks of the disease. Prior to becoming president, he experienced a long, unknown illness and while in office, was bedridden with a fever and later suffered a seizure in 1825. He was exhausted and weak by the time he left office. Toward the end of his life, he had a serious wrist injury and struggled with a chronic lung disease, possibly tuberculosis, from 1830 until his death in 1831.

    • Age: Dec. at 73 (1758-1831)
    • Birthplace: Monroe Hall, Virginia, United States of America
  • John Quincy Adams
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Highlights: Baldness and strokes

    The product of a marriage of very close bloodlines (his mother and father were third cousins) John Quincy Adams was an incredibly healthy man. He was bald, like his father, and he liked to swim and stay active, which may have contributed to his general wellbeing. Adams suffered from his first stroke in 1846 but recovered fully from the resulting paralysis before his second stroke in 1848. He died two days later.

    • Age: Dec. at 80 (1767-1848)
    • Birthplace: Braintree, Massachusetts, United States of America