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Heart Disease Health Center

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Cheney Treated for Shortness of Breath

Vice President Briefly Hospitalized; Symptoms Attributed to Medication Side Effect
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 9, 2006 -- Vice President Dick Cheney was briefly treated at a Washington hospital this morning for shortness of breath.

According to news reports, Cheney, who has a history of heart problems, was taken to George Washington Hospital at 3 a.m. for shortness of breath and was released at about 7:30 a.m.

An EKG (electrocardiogram) that looked at the electrical activity of Cheney's heart showed no changes. Doctors attributed Cheney's shortness of breath to fluid retention related to medication the vice president was taking for a foot problem.

The drug that Cheney had been taking for his foot problem wasn't identified. He was given a diuretic to curb the fluid retention. Diuretics decrease fluid retention by increasing the production of urine.

Cheney "must have responded well to the diuretic," since the vice president was discharged from the hospital quickly, says Robert Myerburg, MD, professor of medicine and physiology at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

History of Health Problems

"Evaluation was certainly the appropriate thing to do," given Cheney's heart history and the reportedly sudden start of symptoms, says Myerburg.

Cheney has previously had four heart attacks, quadruple bypass heart surgery, and two procedures to clear clogged arteries (angioplasty). He also has an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD).

An ICD is a tiny implant that can shock an abnormal heart rhythm back to normal.

Fluid Retention

Fluid retention is a possible side effect of anti-inflammatory drugs such as Advil, Motrin, and Aleve. Fluid retention is "not all that common with anti-inflammatories, but I wouldn't call it rare," Myerburg says.

Fluid retention in the lungs makes it harder to breathe.

"Most drugs have side effects," Myerburg says. He notes that drugs can affect parts of the body unrelated to the condition originally being treated. That could explain how a drug Cheney took for a foot problem led to fluid retention and shortness of breath.

"Taking drug X to treat condition Y can affect Z," says Myerburg.

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