From Cancer to Heart Disease: Every U.S. President That Kept Serious Health Problems a Secret

Concealing health woes is a trend amongst U.S. presidents. Numerous presidents have hidden illnesses from the American people to project strength and longevity. Here’s presidents who have kept their health a secret.

John F. Kennedy hid his fight against Addison’s disease

John F Kennedy in front of a microphone.

John F. Kennedy was taking steroids for his Addison’s disease. | Central Press/Getty Images

The youngest president ever, John F. Kennedy conveyed youth and energy to the American public during the election process. But behind the scenes, his life was different. Kennedy battled Addison’s disease, which causes dizziness, fatigue, nausea, and a whole host of other symptoms, according to the LA Times. At any given time Kennedy was taking “Steroids for his Addison’s disease […] pain-killers for his back, antispasmodics for his colitis, antibiotics for urinary-tract infections, antihistamines for allergies,” Robert Dallek, a historian and Kennedy biographer told TIME.

Franklin D. Roosevelt had polio

Franklin Delano Roosevelt smiling during a press conference.

Franklin D. Roosevelt hid his polio for many years. | Central Press/Getty Images

At 39 years old, Franklin D. Roosevelt contracted polio, paralyzing his legs, Men’s Health says. Using a cane and swinging his hips while using a cane and leaning on another person gave the illusion of walking. Roosevelt flourished despite having polio, navigating the country through World War II and the Great Depression. “Franklin’s illness proved a blessing in disguise, for it gave him strength and courage he had not had before,” Eleanor Roosevelt, Franklin’s wife, wrote in her autobiography.

Grover Cleveland battled jaw cancer

Grover Cleveland in a photograph.

Grover Cleveland underwent a serious operation. | National Archive/Newsmakers/Getty Images

Cleveland spent his second term as president dealing with jaw cancer. On the pretense of taking a fishing trip, six surgeons performed surgery on Cleveland. A cancerous tumor, five teeth, and part of Cleveland’s jaw were all removed, according to Men’s Health. The surgery was performed on a friend’s yacht, (remember, Grover had to keep up the sham he was on a fishing trip), NPR says. “A similar operation today would take several hours; they did it in 90 minutes,” Matthew Algeo, author of The President Is a Sick Man, a book about Grover Cleveland, told NPR.

Woodrow Wilson suffered multiple strokes

Woodrow Wilson sitting at a desk with a microphone.

Woodrow Wilson had a few health scares while in office. | Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Wilson suffered a series of strokes leaving him paralyzed in both legs and blind in one eye, Healthline says. After one stroke in particular, a year went by before Wilson could write normally again. Wilson’s wife and first lady, Edith, helped Wilson perform presidential duties. Edith was “for all intents and purposes the acting president until Wilson’s term ended on March 4, 1921,” Algeo told Men’s Health.

George H.W. Bush hid several health issues

George H.W Bush speaking in front of a podium.

He hasn’t led an easy life, health-wise. | Jerome Delay/AFP/Getty Images

While George H.W. Bush is known to be an avid runner, he has experience with health troubles. As a teenager, he nearly died from a staph infection, according to Healthline. Today, he lives with atrial fibrillation and Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder. George continues to remain active despite his diagnoses.

Chester A. Arthur had Bright’s disease

Chester Arthur in a black and white photograph.

The public wasn’t aware of these illnesses. | National Archives/Handout/ Getty Images

America’s 21st president, Chester. A. Arthur, hid his illness throughout his presidency, according to Men’s Health. Arthur suffered from Bright’s disease, which no longer exists today because the disease was characterized by a host of kidney diseases. To hide his illness, a spokesperson told the New York Herald, the president suffered from malaria. Ultimately, Arthur lost his battle with Bright’s disease, and died of a stroke on Nov. 18, 1886, History says.

Calvin Coolidge may have battled depression

Coolidge in a black and white photograph.

Coolidge might have battled with depression. | White House

While playing tennis at the White House without socks on, Coolidge’s son, Calvin Jr., got a blister. Today, this would be nothing to worry about because of antibiotics, but back then, before antibiotics, Calvin Jr. contracted septicemia and died shortly after at the age of 16, according to Newsweek.

Coolidge developed a reputation for being lazy but his behavior was likely a “consequence of a severe grief reaction from which he never recovered, Dr. Jerrold Post, George Washington University’s director of the political psychology program and author of Leaders and Their Followers in a Dangerous World, told Newsweek. It’s unknown whether or not Calvin Coolidge knew he was grieving and most likely, depressed, or if he tried his best to hide his pain.

Dwight Eisenhower hid a heart attack

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Eisenhower experienced various health woes in his first term. | James Anthony Wills/Wikimedia Commons

After experiencing his first heart attack, Eisenhower concealed the real story. The story that Eisenhower had “a digestive upset during the night,” circulated among media outlets, author John Dickerson says in his book, Whistlestop, according to The Washington Post. Although Eisenhower preferred to tell the public what really happened. Eisenhower told his press secretary, James C. Hagerty, to ”tell them everything,” The New York Time says.

Eisenhower’s health troubles didn’t stop there. In 1956, Eisenhower underwent surgery related to Crohn’s disease and in 1957, he had a mild stroke, The New York Times says.

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