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January 11, 2018

What Trump's first physical as POTUS will (and won't) say about his health

Daily Briefing

    President Trump on Friday will undergo his first physical examination since taking office, and like his predecessors before him, he will publicly release the results—but exactly what information will be disclosed will be largely up to Trump's discretion.

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    White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders last month announced Trump's plan to have a physical after Trump slurred words during a speech. The incident prompted several former policymakers and providers to question Trump's health. However, Sanders dismissed questions about the president's health as "ridiculous" and said that Trump had slurred his words because he was thirsty.  

    About the president's health exam

    Trump, 71, will go to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for his first physical while in office. Ronny Jackson, the official physician to the president and a rear admiral in the Navy, will conduct the exam. Jackson previously worked as a White House physician during the former President George W. Bush's administration and conducted former President Barack Obama's last health exam in 2014, Bloomberg reports.

    Presidents are not required to have a physical or to publicly share the results, Bloomberg reports, but over the years it has become standard practice to do so.  Sanders on Tuesday said Trump's physical likely would be similar to those for Obama and Bush.

    According to the New York Times, a review of annual presidential checkups dating back to former President Jimmy Carter shows the breadth of such physicals varies, as does the information that is shared. Presidential exams typically cover basic health metrics, such as body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, and resting heart rate. According to CNN, past presidential exams also have included data on the president's cardiac rhythms, gastrointestinal system, skin, thyroid, vision, and neurological indicators.

    White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley recently said that Trump's exam would not include a psychiatric exam, Politico reports. Gidley declined to provide any additional information about Trump's physical, such as whether it would include other forms of cognitive testing. The topic of mental health and the presidency has been a point of discussion in recent weeks: More than a dozen lawmakers, including one Republican, last month met with a Yale University psychiatrist to discuss Trump's mental health. However, several prominent groups—including the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association—and have said such discussions are "unethical" and stigmatize mental health conditions.

    The involvement of any specialists in the exams has historically varied. For instance, according to CNN, Bush during his first physical was seen by team of doctors including an audiologist, cardiologist, dermatologist, gastroenterologist, neurologist, optometrist, orthopedist, otolaryngologist, podiatrist, pulmonologist, radiologist, and urologist. Politico reports former President Bill Clinton's 1999 physical also included a team of 12 specialists.

    What to expect from a presidential medical report

    According to Bloomberg, presidential medical reports are generally sparse and do not include information beyond basic health and lifestyle information.

    For instance, in George W. Bush's first physical as president, his doctor noted that Bush occasionally smoked cigars, drank Diet Coke, and ran 12 miles per week. Obama's medical reports detailed his efforts to quit smoking. According to Politico, Obama's last physical stated that he had "improved lean body mass" and lowered his cholesterol level since his last exam. According to Bloomberg, both Bush's and Obama's medical reports indicated normal neurological function.

    Art Caplan, a professor of bioethics at New York University, said, "You probably are not going to get any bad news out of this." He added, "Just like when you or I get a physical, it is completely up to you what you release about it. There is no obligation to tell anyone anything."

    For instance, research shows that several past presidents have had major health problems that were not publicly revealed, Bloomberg reports. Former President Woodrow Wilson suffered a serious stroke during office, former President Dwight Eisenhower also suffered both a stroke and heart attack during his presidency and underwent a gastrointestinal surgery, and former President Ronald Reagan underwent surgery to his prostate and for colon cancer during his presidency, according to Politico (Phettypiece, Bloomberg, 1/8; Fabian, The Hill, 1/8; Liptak, CNN, 12/28/17; Liptak, CNN, 1/8; Diamond/Cancryn, Politico, 1/8; Gerstein, Politico, 1/7; Rogers/Altman, New York Times, 1/9; Diamond, "Pulse," Politico, 1/10).

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