Biden’s medical team says he’s ‘healthy’ but suffers stiff gait

President Joe Biden waves as he walks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., before going to New Hampshire on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)
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Jennifer Epstein and Justin Sink Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is “healthy” and remains “fit to successfully execute the duties of the presidency,” his doctors said Friday after he underwent a routine physical exam and colonoscopy just a day before his 79th birthday.

But the president is suffering from a “perceptibly stiffer and less fluid” gait following a series of injuries and is experiencing a more frequent need to clear his throat or cough during public engagements, according to his physician, Kevin O’Connor.

Still, doctors reported no findings “consistent with any cerebellar or other central neurological disorder” or motor weakness. The president is being treated with common prescription and over-the-counter medicines for minor conditions including spinal arthritis and seasonal allergies.

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Biden, the oldest person to ever be elected president, has faced extra scrutiny about his health because of his age and some critics’ efforts to undermine him. In addition to a routine physical, the president on Friday underwent anesthesia for a colonoscopy screening, requiring him to briefly transfer power to Vice President Kamala Harris.

The president told reporters at the White House he felt “good” following his exam. “I feel great, nothing’s changed,” Biden said, before joking about his age.

The president will receive custom orthotics in an effort to improve his foot biomechanics, O’Connor said.

Biden’s colonoscopy revealed a 3 mm polyp that doctors believe is benign, they said. It was removed and results of a histology to evaluate the polyp will be completed in the coming days.

Before Friday, his team had provided scant details about his well-being since December 2019, when his presidential campaign released a health report. At the time, his long-time physician described Biden as “a healthy, vigorous, 77-year-old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the presidency, to include those as chief executive, head of state and commander in chief.”

Biden’s 2019 report, signed by O’Connor, who is now the president’s official physician, listed an “irregularly irregular” heartbeat, high levels of fat in the blood, acid reflux and seasonal allergies. At the time, he took three prescriptions — Eliquis and Crestor for his heart and blood issues, and Dymista for allergies — and two over-the-counter drugs, Nexium for acid reflux and Allegra for allergies.

Since then, Biden and his aides have reported only one major health issue for the president: two foot fractures that took place a few weeks after he was elected. Biden has said the injuries happened while he was playing with his dog, Major, who slid on a throw rug that Biden then slipped on.

He suffered hairline fractures and briefly wore a medical boot. After an X-ray in early February, O’Connor said the president had “completely healed.”

Biden suffered two brain aneurysms in 1988 and had surgery to repair burst blood vessels, but his 2019 medical report said he had no lingering effects from those incidents.

Friday’s exam was a not the first time a president has invoked Section 3 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, transferring “powers and duties” to the vice president — though Harris did become the first woman to officially serve as acting president. The White House said it was following the precedent George W. Bush set during two colonoscopies he had while in office.

Before Harris, another woman once took on the role of an acting president without being given the title: Woodrow Wilson’s wife, Edith, functionally ran the executive branch after her husband suffered a stroke in 1919.

Ronald Reagan actively avoided invoking the amendment — which was ratified in 1967 — when he briefly put his vice president, George H.W. Bush, in charge while under anesthesia in 1985. And Stephanie Grisham, a press secretary to former President Donald Trump, insinuated in her memoir that the former president underwent a colonoscopy in 2019 but hid the fact from the public.

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