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More about Cheney's heart attack. How many can one person have?

February 23, 2010 |  2:11 pm

Cheney The news that former Vice President Dick Cheney suffered his fifth heart attack Monday and was admitted to a hospital, where apparently he is recovering nicely, naturally raises the question of how many heart attacks one person can have.

Five heart attacks may seem like a lot, but it really isn't, experts said. Physicians have become better at diagnosing very small heart attacks that might have passed by unobserved in the past, and improvements in therapy have made large, killer heart attacks less common.

The tests for troponins -- cardiac enzymes released from damaged heart muscle during a heart attack -- have become very sensitive and "can pick up a very small amount of heart damage," said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a cardiologist at UCLA's Reagan Medical Center. "If the attacks are very small, there would not necessarily be any substantial impairment of heart function."

At the same time, improved treatments for heart disease mean that many heart attacks are smaller than they would have been a generation ago. Drugs to prevent clotting, reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure and dissolve clots have reduced the likelihood of a massive attack in someone with diagnosed heart disease. "With aggressive medical therapy, we don't see the very big heart attacks we used to have 20 years ago," said Dr. Robert Kloner, a cardiologist at USC's Keck School of Medicine. "People can have small heart attacks multiple times and still do very well."

One factor that may be operating in Cheney's favor is that he has suffered heart problems since 1978. Over that time, "it is likely that he has developed collateral [new] blood vessels that grow into the areas not getting enough oxygen," Kloner said. "That might be something that is helping him."

So how many heart attacks can a person have and still survive? The answer depends on the amount of damage to the left ventricle, which pumps blood into the arteries. Problems arise when about 40% of the muscle in the ventricle becomes damaged. Then, a patient may die or require a heart transplant or other drastic measures. Cheney's physicians have not revealed any information about the condition of his ventricle.

Apparently, the Guinness World Records do not list the individual who has suffered the most heart attacks during his or her lifetime, and doctors don't seem to keep track of it either. But Fonarow said he has patients who have had eight or nine and are still going strong.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

Photo: Former US Vice President Dick Cheney at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research on May 21, 2009. Credit: Michael Reynolds / EPA

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Comments (17)

Cheney's heart is made of stone so I'm sure it's quite resilient.

First you need to have a heart, so I am somewhat curious how Cheney could have an attack. Maybe it was a bile attack.

Cheney must have the Grim Reaper on speed dial.

I hear he has his heart routinely replaced with those of innocent children, which then quickly darken and atrophy inside his body.


OK folks, we are not going to post any more vitriolic comments. They are getting way too nasty. Please re-review the guidelines about propriety before you submit more comments.

Are you kidding? These comments are mild for what I think about this man. Cheney/Bush declared war on the poor in this country. He'll be getting everything he deserves.

Gee, I wonder if his health insurance has gone up.... risk factor is high.

You're right, Thomas.

In reality, I do wish him well.

Small heart attacks are survivable.....Who knew?
What's his diet like?
How many pills does he take each day?
Can he do any excecise?
If I were him, I'd be paranoid to sneeze.......
What's his family history?

As many as your health insurance provider will cover, if you have one, or can even get a provider after the first heart attack, of course.

Dick Vader's special suit keeps him alive again!

A spiritual theory of heart attacks is that your heart is asking you to -open- your heart. Cheney has resisted these requests with great strength & endurance. He's destined for many more.


We wish Cheney well. However, we cannot ignore the nasty hue of his current politics and the stress that possibly triggered his current health problems. Over the weekend, in searing strokes, two highly respected Generals (Powell and Petraeus) demolished the thesis of Cheney’s up-coming revisionist book on his role in the Bush White House and his touted credentials on national security. On Monday, the Justice Department released a damaging analysis debunking Cheney’s claims that harsh interrogation methods worked. Cheney did not get the vindication he sought! Cheney does not have in his bone the idealism of a Mother Theresa. Indeed, a case can be made that he lived on the dark side of power that needs fear to sustain it. Like many neo-cons, he employs deficient “facts” and arguments to confuse the masses. They hope that repeated falsehood would result in fulfillment just as corporations do in advertising. These two tricks (power through fear, and use of subliminal propaganda) Cheney learned well in the corporate world. Cheney thus aims to impact our thinking on the future. He asserts that Obama would be a “one-time President” in a barely begun Presidency. Remember Cheney’s score card. He predicted that Iraq will welcome the US as liberators; it didn’t happen. But such are the things that keep Cheney awake at night—aware that history will not treat him kindly. Perhaps some entities, at home or abroad, are still plotting how to bring war crime charges against him. Cheney is scared!

I wonder if he has changed his eating habits and lifestyle. That is a really powerful intervention that can even reverse heart disease. But since this was nr 5... it does not look like Cheney is aware of it...

yeah im sure obama didnt send him any flowers! cheney probably would have been cut off by the death panels if he had the public option. btw if obamas health plan passes there will be death panels that decide when to cut you off when you are a lost cause. thats how they would keep the health care budget in check.

Cheney has had 5 heart attacks since 1978 so why is he still working in a high stress job? Either he is probably doing very little work or he has a robotic heart devoid of human emotions that is programmed for one mission--world domination.


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