WASHINGTON -- Bernie Sanders and his doctors likely would have known within hours that the Democratic presidential candidate had a heart attack in Las Vegas last Tuesday, cardiologists say, but his campaign described the incident at first as a fleeting episode of chest pain and waited three days to reveal the more serious diagnosis.
The incident has raised questions about the 78-year-old senator's fitness for the stress of the presidency.
Standard practice when a person comes to a doctor with chest pain is a set of tests that can tell if they are suffering a heart attack, say leading heart doctors including a Harvard medical professor. That rapid diagnosis -- which can be performed in minutes -- is crucial for doctors to perform frequently lifesaving interventions to open blood flow to the heart muscle.
It took the campaign several days to disclose the severity of the episode. On Oct. 2, a day after the incident, senior adviser Jeff Weaver said Sanders had "experienced some chest discomfort," and that "following medical evaluation and testing he was found to have a blockage in one artery and two stents were successfully inserted."
On Oct. 4, the campaign indicated it was something more serious. Sanders said in a tweet that he had been in the hospital for 2 1/2 days. The campaign issued a follow-up statement from treating physicians Arturo E. Marchand and Arjun Gururaj acknowledging it was a heart attack that had required urgent care.
"Sen. Sanders was diagnosed with a myocardial infarction," the medical term for a heart attack, the doctors said. "He was immediately transferred to Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center." The doctors said two stents were placed in a blocked coronary artery "in a timely fashion."
Bloomberg asked the Sanders campaign if he had the blood test to determine whether he had a heart attack on Tuesday per standard procedure. A Sanders campaign aide declined to comment further. Weaver didn't immediately return a message seeking comment on his Oct. 2 statement.
Sanders, talking to reporters outside his home Tuesday, said he would release his medical records "at the appropriate time."
The campaign's differing disclosures last week paint very different medical pictures.
The less serious situation described Tuesday, chest pain, or angina, typically develops when arteries that feed the heart are narrowing so that blood flow is slowing, but not completely blocked. Pain can develop when the heart works harder, such as during exercise. The narrowing of the arteries can be treated with medicine or stents put in electively. Stents are metal inserts threaded into arteries to hold them open.