Experts: Cheney's Condition Not Critical

The chest pains that led Republican vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney to check himself into a hospital today are a cause for concern, but they are nothing that simple medical procedures couldn’t fix, according to heart specialists around the country.

Cheney, who was hospitalized in Washington early this morning after complaining of chest and shoulder pains, has suffered three heart attacks in the past and underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 1988.

This afternoon the former defense secretary underwent a two-hour cardiac catheterization, in which doctors placed a stent into one of Cheney’s arteries after discovering signs it was narrowing. The stent is a cylinder that further expands a narrowed area of the artery in order to further improve blood flow.

“The artery now appears normal,” said Alan Wasserman, interim chair of the Department of Medicine at George Washington University Hospital, adding there was “no evidence of any new heart damage” to Cheney, 59.

“He is in better shape now than before coming in here,” Wasserman said.

Cardiologists around the country say Cheney’s condition is a serious matter, but the prognosis is good.

Improving Blood Flow

Over time blood vessels in the heart narrow, constricting the blood flow, which could lead to chest pains. This is more likely in to happen several years after a heart operation, said Dr. Douglas Zipes, president of American College of Cardiology.

Zipes, who practices and teaches at Indiana University School of Medicine, said that a catheterization is a common practice for patients who have had heart problems in the past.

One of Cheney’s doctors told a news conference today that only one of Cheney’s arteries was clogged. Zipes said that is good news.

“If he has narrowing on a single vessel, then the problem can easily be approached through the technology,” Zipes said.

Zipes said the stent procedure performed on Cheney is a form of angioplasty, which is a general term for the clearing out of blood vessels. It is usually successful in opening up arteries and restoring blood flow, Zipes said.

However, if this doesn’t solve the problem, doctors may have to perform open-heart surgery to repair the arteries.

Before becoming George W. Bush’s running mate, Cheney underwent an extensive medical examination at Washington University Hospital and received a clean bill of health.

Could Stress Be a Factor?

Given the recent election turmoil, questions naturally arise as to whether Cheney’s chest pains could be stress-related — and whether someone with his condition could handle the burden of becoming the country’s second in command.

Doctors say it depends on the person.

“People are highly individual in how they feel stress, ” said Rose Marie Robertson, a cardiologist and professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. “Some people love to be in the middle of the action and are actually happier in that situation.”

Cheney’s previous heart attacks cannot be dismissed, experts say.

“A normal individual like George W. Bush [will] shrug it off pretty easily,” Zipes said. “But Cheney, with the damaged vessel, can be more predisposed to the effects of stress and it could result in the chest pain that he has had. It is not the cause of the problem, those have accumulated throughout many years.”

Other doctors say Cheney can handle the stress. He served as defense secretary under Bush’s father, President George Bush, and most recently as chairman of Halliburton Co., a Texas-based Fortune 500 energy services company.

“It is hard to believe being vice president is more stressful than running a large company,” said Dr. Steven Nissen, vice chairman of the Department of Cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic. “It is simply a coincidence that this would happen at this time.”

Even if he had a more serious condition, many doctors say Cheney could still perform vice-presidential duties.

“Many people who have heart disease are fully engaged in vigorous activities,” said Robertson, who is president of the American Heart Association. “Anyone can develop serious heart problems and anyone can control risk factors.”