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  • Writer's pictureLangston Jones

Most Common Presidential Maladies

I really found the research I did for my presidential octogenarian blog post so interesting that I made health flash cards and decided to write a new blog post about the most common maladies.

1. Pneumonia -- Pneumonia is a swelling of the lungs caused by bacteria or virus. To prevent from getting it, don't smoke and wash your hands a lot. There have been 10 presidents known to have pneumonia. Only four of them died of it: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, William Henry Harrison, and Benjamin Harrison.

George Washington Dying of Pneumonia

2. Depression -- Of course, it's impossible to die of depression, but there was a president who died of problems he got from alcohol, and he drank alcohol because of depression. It was Franklin Pierce who really died of stomach inflammation. He had depression because his first wife and all his children died before he was president. Eight presidents are known to have had depression. I was surprised to read Thomas Jefferson had depression. I was not surprised by John Adams or Abraham Lincoln.

Franklin Pierce as a Soldier

3. Stroke -- Woodrow Wilson had a very big stroke in 1918 or 1919 and lived several years before he died of the same stroke in 1924. But Wilson wasn't the only president who died of a stroke. A total of nine presidents had strokes. John Quincy Adams actually died of a stroke in the U.S. Capital building. FDR was the only president to die of a stroke while in office.

John Quincy Adams Having a Stroke

(he looks young here, but he is actually 80)

4. Malaria -- A long time ago, more people in the U.S. had malaria. I found more presidents who had it a long time ago than in around the last 100 years. Seven presidents had malaria, including George Washington, James Monroe, and Andy Jackson.

Teddy Roosevelt in the Amazon, where he Caught Malaria

5. Heart Attack -- Warren Harding was the only president believed to have died of a heart attack while in office. But he may have died of a stroke or been poisoned by his wife. Six other presidents are known to have had heart attacks.

Harding's Last Words: "That's good. Go on, read some more."

6. Heart Failure -- Look at the newspaper headline above. That president next to Harding (Coolidge) also died of heart problems--not heart attack but heart failure. It's more likely to die of heart failure if you're overweight or obese. But President Coolidge wasn't overweight. In fact, he was one of the skinniest presidents. A total of six presidents are known to have had heart failure. Martin Van Buren survived heart failure.

Coolidge Dies of Heart Problems

7. Dysentery -- A total of six president had dysentery. One president who had dysentery was the main writer of The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. (Never Google the term "dysentery toilet," or you'll find gross pictures, like we did.)

Germ of Dysentery

8. Cancer -- Even the longest living president, Jimmy Carter, had cancer. He had skin cancer and recovered at age 91. Ulysses Grant smoked and drank a lot and ended up dying of throat cancer. A total of six presidents had cancer, including Lincoln.

Grant Writing his Memoirs while he Dies of Throat Cancer

9. Obesity -- At least six presidents were obese. Because of their obesity, both Taft and Cleveland had sleep apnea and heart problems. Taft also had lower back pain. Cleveland didn't die of his heart problems; Taft did. After leaving office, Taft lost 80 pounds, bringing him to 260 pounds, which made him skinnier than Cleveland had been.

Taft -- This might be after he lost weight because

to me he doesn't look like he has a BMI over 40.

In fact, he doesn't even look obese.

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Nov 08, 2020

Thanks for the update. Pierce and Biden share loss of first wife and a child. Although Jill Biden definitely will be happier in the White House than Jane Pierce.

I guess I took the fact the Thomas Jefferson had pneumonia that he wasn’t healthy, which of course is simply having a bad illness not a reflection of his overall health.


Langston Jones
Langston Jones
Nov 08, 2020

Diana, some presidents over 100 years ago were pretty healthy, including Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams. John Adams (in my opinion), Millard Fillmore, and more.

Franklin Pierce's first wife and one of his children died in a train accident. He remarried Jane Pierce, who sadly had a terrible time in the White House because of the children dying and because she didn't want Franklin Pierce to be president. He was 48 when he became president, which makes him one of the top 10 presidents at inauguration.


Nov 07, 2020

Taft definitely is obese. Look at his huge belly, even it this photo was taken after he lost 80 pounds. Maybe he just had soft tummy muscles. 260 may not be obese depending upon how tall he was.

How did Franklin Pierce's wife and children die? How old was he when he became president? Did he remarry? I'm pretty sure you may have already answered these questions in one of your blogs, I just haven't read them all yet.

This blog is definitely interesting. It appears people weren't so healthy 10o + years ago, even powerful people like presidents of the U.S.


Sep 11, 2020

How about dementia? I believe (despite the denials) that Reagan was already suffering from early stage Alzheimer's in his second term. It typically starts well before an official diagnosis.

(I think the "Florence Harding as murderer" theory has been pretty much fully debunked, but I guess we'll never know for sure.)

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