Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on January 28, 2023
John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy


No. 35 (1961-1963) Kennedy had many illnesses as a child, including scarlet fever, diphtheria, and asthma. But his most serious health problem was Addison's disease, a life-threatening condition in which your immune system attacks your adrenal glands and they don't make enough hormones. When he was diagnosed around age 30, his doctor gave him less than a year to live. He took steroids regularly as treatment until he was killed 15 years later in 1963.

George Washington

George Washington


No. 1 (1789-1797) Two years after leaving office, when Washington was 67 and otherwise healthy, he woke in the night with a sore throat and trouble breathing. As treatment, his doctors took more than a half-gallon of blood from him during four "bleedings." This was standard at the time, but it definitely didn't work. He got much worse and died less than 24 hours later. Medical experts think he may have had a severe infection of the larynx (voice box).

Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland


No. 22 (1885-1889), No. 24 (1893-1897) In May 1893, in a cover-up that's hard to imagine in today's 24-hour news cycle, doctors secretly boarded Cleveland's personal yacht and removed a cancerous growth from the roof of his mouth. The operation was a success. He lived another 15 years and died of a heart attack in 1908 at the age of 71.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln


No. 16 (1861-1865) Researchers have debated the reason for Lincoln's unusually long, thin hands, feet, face, and neck for decades. One newer theory is that he may have inherited a condition from his mother called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2. It affects the glands that make hormones and can cause problems with your muscles, joints, and digestive system. It also can cause cancer. We may never know for sure. Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson


No. 7 (1829-1837) This hot-headed president was involved in many duels and battles during his life and was generally in poor health. In 1832, a bullet left in Jackson's arm from a gunfight 20 years earlier began to cause him intense pain. Jackson gritted his teeth as the surgeon made a cut, squeezed his arm, and popped the bullet out. His overall health improved afterward, leading his doctor to believe the bullet may have been causing lead poisoning.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt


No. 32 (1933-1945) The Secret Service went to great lengths to hide it, but Roosevelt was paralyzed in both legs after he got polio in 1921 at age 39 -- well before he became president. His wife Eleanor said the disease was a blessing in disguise because it "gave him strength and courage he had not had before."

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan


No. 40 (1981-1989) During his second term, Reagan was successfully treated for colon cancer (1985) and skin cancer (1985 and 1987). Following his presidency -- after he'd been out of office about 5 years -- he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease (1994). He died in 2004 with the official causes listed as Alzheimer's and pneumonia, a common health problem for people with that form of dementia.

William Taft

William Taft


No. 27 (1909-1913) This president struggled with his weight throughout his life. He had a huge appetite and was clinically obese. At just under 6 feet tall, Taft weighed about 340 pounds when he left office. He had sleep apnea, among other conditions that may have been caused or made worse by his weight. He died of complications related to heart disease, high blood pressure, and bladder inflammation in 1930.

Show Sources


1) Boston Globe / Contributor / Getty Images

2) MPI / Stringer / Getty Images

3) National Archives / Handout / Getty Images

4) Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

5) Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty Images

6) Universal History Archive / Contributor / Getty Images

7) David Hume Kennerly / Contributor / Getty Images

8) PhotoQuest / Contributor / Getty Images



Arthritis Foundation: "Gout Causes."

Alzheimer's Association: "On Presidents' Day, Celebrate Reagan and Later Presidents' Actions to Move Alzheimer's Awareness Forward."

Library of Congress: "The Assassination of President Lincoln."

Mayo Clinic: "Addison's disease," "Alzheimer's disease."

Clinical Correlations: "Did Abraham Lincoln Have Marfan Syndrome?"

National Council for the Social Studies: "The Politics of Polio."

National Institutes of Health: "Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia," "Lead poisoning from retained bullets. Pathogenesis, diagnosis, and management."

National Park Service -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial: "Quotations."

New York Academy of Medicine: "The Secret Surgeries of Grover Cleveland."

NIH Medline Plus: "Medical Research Pays Off for All Americans: William Howard Taft -- Then & Now."

The Permanente Journal: "Early Detection of Colon Cancer -- The Kaiser Permanente Northwest 30-Year History: How Do We Measure Success?"

Reagan Library: "Text of letter written by President Ronald Reagan announcing he has Alzheimer's disease."

Skin Cancer Foundation: "Covert Ops: Skin Cancer Surgery in the Reagan White House."

University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine: "JFK and Addison's Disease."

Yale School of Medicine: "MEN 2A and MEN 2B Syndrome."

University of Texas Health Leader: "Andrew Jackson."

University of Virginia Miller Center: "Grover Cleveland: Life After the Presidency."

University of Virginia -- Washington Papers: "George Washington's Terminal Illness: A Modern Medical Analysis of the Last Illness and Death of George Washington."