Health and Medical History of President

William Clinton

President #42: 1993-2001
Lived 1946-Now
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Health and Medical History of President

William Clinton

President #42: 1993-2001
Lived 1946-Now
Lived 1946-Now 2023 1776
Revolutionary War
War of 1812
Mexican-American War
Civil War
Spanish-American War
World War 1
World War 2
Korean War
Viet Nam War
Desert Storm
Bush's Wars

Maladies & Conditions  · tonsillectomy · near drowning · GE reflux · rectal bleeding · strained knee ligament · cardiac risk · height & weight · hearing aids · vocal cords · allergic rhinitis · refused anthrax vaccine · counseling · torn knee tendon · cyst removed · nose lesion removed · genital morphology · basal cell carcinoma · acne rosacea · coronary bypass · decortication surgery · dozed

Odds & Ends · Doctors · Resources · Cited Sources

Maladies and Conditions
Bill Clinton had a tonsillectomy in 1952, at age 6 1a.
near drowning
At age 19, Clinton almost drowned at a beach party in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. A strong tide had carried him about 100 yards out to sea. Another 19-year-old, Fife Symington, took a rowboat out to get him and years later remembered:
I reached down and grabbed him by his hair, which there was a lot, and he's a big guy and I lifted him up and said "you need a ride?", And I flipped him into the boat and he was coughing, and he lacerated his chest, because he'd been raked over some shoals and brought him to shore that was it. ... He said I saved his life; he was in trouble, there's no doubt about that. 2
(Symington later became governor of Arizona, but resigned because of legal troubles. Clinton, then president, pardoned him. 2)
GE reflux
Clinton "has been troubled by gastrointestinal symptoms which have been attributed to reflux esophagitis." These symptoms included "bouts of heartburn" 1b. Treatment included elimination of certain foods (e.g. caffeine), antacid medication, and sleeping on a wedge 1c. 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" 1d.
strained knee ligament
Left knee ligament strain in 1984 1b.
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 3. 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 4 -- and then needed a bypass operation.

hearing aids
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 1e.
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 1b.

An allergist evaluated him in autumn 1991 and reported 1e:

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" 1b.

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 5.

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.)

"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" 6. 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 8.

Had the operation required general anesthesia, Clinton had planned to transfer Presidential authority to Vice President Gore under terms of the 25th Amendment 9. Clinton was awake during the entire operation and "was alert most of the time" 8.

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.
genital morphology
Claiming then-Governor Clinton propositioned her and exposed himself to her in 1991, Paula Jones filed suit against him in 1994. In a sworn affadivit, leaked to the press in order to humiliate then-President Clinton 10, she claimed to have seen Clinton's genitalia and described three "distinguishing characteristics" of his penis, namely its length, circumference, and angulation 11.

Clinton's attorney responded: "In terms of size, shape, direction, whatever the devious mind wants to concoct, the President is a normal man. There are no blemishes, there are no moles, there are no growths." 11 (Monica Lewinsky also disagreed with Jones' description 12.)

By February 1998 the hoopla over this particular facet had muted.

The "distinguishing characteristics" claim, for example, is rarely mentioned anymore since Bennett [Clinton's attorney] obtained medical testimony that he said disputes her description. Jones's current lawyers have said that is not a principal part of their case. 13
Jones dropped her case in November 1998, after a settlement.

Comment: Jones' description is not reprinted here. It lacks the detail necessary to determine whether Clinton has "Peyronie disease," which has been a topic of speculation. It is interesting, however, that Clinton had an exuberant fibrotic reaction in his chest after his coronary bypass operation. Fibrosis is the basis of Peyronie disease.

Comment: The House of Representatives impeached Clinton on December 19, 1998, thereby helping establish "Dr. Zebra's Law" which states: "Any president whose genital morphology becomes a topic of public discussion will be impeached." See the page for Donald Trump.

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 4. 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 14. He tolerated the operation well 15.
During the Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemoration on Jan. 21, 2008 at Convent Avenue Baptist Church in Harlem, Clinton fell asleep 16.
Odds and Ends
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Cited Sources
  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.
    a  pp.297, 298  b  p.298  c  p.300  d  pp.298-299  e  p.299  f  p.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.

  2. Hook, John. Fife Symington Reflects on His Time as Governor, His Troubles, and Saving Bill Clinton's Life. (Published 8 May 2014. Downloaded on 2020-02-02.) Available on the web:
  3. Mathews J. The shrinking field. Washington Post. August 3, 1999. Page C1.

    Comment: Accessed through

  4. Milbank, D. Bill Clinton to undergo heart bypass surgery. Washington Post. on September 3, 2004 at 3:25pm.


  5. Findlay, S. Clinton sees little anthrax threat to civilians. USA Today. December 17, 1997.
  6. Greenberg, DS. Hale to the chief. Lancet. 1999;353:1894.
  7. Gibbs, Nancy. Interview: "I had to ask myself whether I would stay married". Time. June 16, 2003, pages 28-29.
  8. (CNN). Clinton should recover fully from knee surgery. March 14, 1997.


  9. (CNN). White House doctors: the President's shadow. September 24, 2004.


  10. Terris, Ben. George Conway is the man at the center of everything. (Published May 14, 2017. Downloaded on 2019-12-19.) Available on the web:
  11. Carlin, John. No moles, no growths, but Clinton has his blemishes. (Published 16 Nov. 1997. Downloaded on 2019-12-19.) Available on the web:
  12. Slate "Explainer". The Distinguished Gentleman. (Published 6 Oct. 1998. Downloaded on 2019-12-19.) Available on the web:
  13. Baker, Peter; Adams, Lorraine. Jones Added New Details in Deposition. (Published 21 Feb. 1998. Downloaded on 2019-12-19.) Available on the web:
  14. Brown, David. Clinton to undergo follow-up chest surgery. Washington Post. March 9, 2005; page A2.

    Comment: Accessed from

  15. Associated Press. Clinton 'glad to be home' after second operation. Washington Post. March 15, 2005; page A3.

    Comment: Accessed from

  16. Allen, Jane E. A snoozing VP and sleeping air traffic controllers suggest we're dangerously sleep deprived. (Published April 14, 2011. Downloaded on 2023-08-13.) Available on the web:
  17. 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.

  18. Available on the web:

    Comment: Another fascinating web page from Dr. Zebra!

  19. Kelly, Virginia. Leading with My Heart. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

    Comment: This was reported by a reader. I have not checked the reference myself.

Other Sources
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