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Getting to the heart of presidential fitness: How much do we need to know?

Julie Appleby, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

Differences in health policy weren't the only bones presidential candidates had to pick last week. They also sparred over details of their personal health. And with the Super Tuesday primaries fast approaching, these skirmishes are likely to escalate.

In the run-up to the Las Vegas Democratic presidential primary face-off, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' national press secretary, Briahna Joy Gray, told CNN that opponents are trying to use his October heart attack against him. Then she mistakenly claimed that Mike Bloomberg "has suffered heart attacks in the past" -- a statement she quickly walked back after a Bloomberg adviser said in a tweet it was a "Trumpy lie."

He did not have a heart attack, Bloomberg's camp explained, trying to differentiate its candidate's health status. He had stents. The former New York mayor, according to the campaign, had coronary stents inserted two decades ago after a cardiac test indicated they might be useful.

Feathers still ruffled, the two candidates went at it again on the debate stage.

"I think the one area, maybe, that Mayor Bloomberg and I share, you have two stents, as well," Sanders said Thursday to his rival onstage.

Bloomberg responded, "Twenty-five years ago."

 

It's not surprising, with the oldest crop ever of presidential candidates, that their vital signs are becoming a talking point.

"When it comes to politics, personal health is just one more issue to try and leverage," said Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at NYU School of Medicine in New York City.

That got us wondering how this information fits into the facts voters weigh. And in evaluating a candidate's long-term health or electability, does it really matter whether a patient got a stent as part of treatment for a heart attack, like Sanders, or for another reason, such as to relieve chest pain or following a cardiac stress test, like Bloomberg?

"In this day and age, with the way technology has advanced and the skill sets of the cardiologists, I would say they are practically the same. We expect good results for both," said Dr. Hadley Wilson, a practicing cardiologist in Charlotte, N.C., and a member of the American College of Cardiology's board of trustees.

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