Bush's thyroid problem is same as first lady's Bush has same overactive thyroid problem as his wife, begins easy treatment

May 10, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- In an extraordinary coincidence, President Bush and first lady Barbara Bush have the same easily treatable thyroid ailment -- Graves' disease -- Mr. Bush's doctors said yesterday.

The disease, cause by an overactive thyroid, is not contagious and very seldom strikes both marriage partners, medical experts said.

Mr. Bush will cut his schedule for the next week while he undergoes treatment for the thyroid problem believed to have caused his irregular heartbeat, said the president's personal physician, Dr. Burton Lee.

Graves' disease can affect the eyes -- as in Mrs. Bush's case -- or the heart, as in the president's, by speeding up the body's metabolism.

Mr. Bush began treatment for the ailment yesterday, drinking a radioactive iodine solution that will destroy much of the thyroid over the next two or three months, his doctors said. After that, he will take replacement medicine, if necessary.

"We anticipate that the president will be fully restored to his usual vigorous state of health very quickly," said Dr. Kenneth Burman, a thyroid expert from Walter Reed Army Hospital.

Once the overactive thyroid is corrected, said Dr. Burman, Mr. Bush's irregular heartbeat, which has not recurred since Tuesday night, "will probably disappear."

A thyroid scan yesterday morning "was most reassuring," finding no signs of "nodules, tumors or cysts in the thyroid gland," said Dr. Colum Gorman, a thyroid expert at the Mayo Clinic who flew in to consult See BUSH, 9A, Col. 1BUSH, from 1Aon Mr. Bush's case.

In the meantime, Dr. Lee is making Mr. Bush reduce his work schedule "to give the man a break."

"He's been through quite a lot. He is going to be cutting back his schedule a bit over the next week," Dr. Lee told reporters at Bethesda Naval Hospital, where Mr. Bush spent last Saturday and Sunday nights with atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat.

"We're in a transitory phase here, and I don't think the man should be overly stressed in the next week," Dr. Lee said.

Later, the president told a Hispanic group at the White House that he was "very lucky, very, very lucky" that his ailment was not severe.

"I won't go into the clinical assessment, but it's great," Mr. Bush said. "I just take something to do with the thyroid and the heart is perfect."

Dr. Lee said in an interview that the president at first had been "worried about the cause" of his irregular heartbeat and "gratified, very gratified" when the thyroid, and not a more serious heart ailment, was found to be the cause.

Until his thyroid condition is remedied, doctors said that Mr. Bush would continue to take the three drugs he is now using: digoxin and procainamide to regulate his heartbeat, and Coumadin, a blood thinner, to prevent clotting that could lead to a stroke. Coumadin, known generically as warfarin, is used in massive doses as a rat poison, causing rodents to die of internal bleeding.

In addition to those three drugs, Dr. Burman said that over the next two weeks Mr. Bush would be taking iodine drops to slow the production of the thyroid hormone that, in excess quantities, is believed to have speeded up Mr. Bush's heart.

Those drops will be discontinued once the massive radioactive "cocktail" Mr. Bush swallowed yesterday morning begins to take effect and destroy the thyroid, a gland in the neck that regulates the metabolism.

Mrs. Bush underwent the same treatment in 1989 to destroy her thyroid and now takes medication to replace it. Dr. Burman, who also treated the first lady, said she was doing "quite well."

The Mayo Clinic's Dr. Gorman, who also has been treating Mrs. Bush, said her case was more severe than her husband's. He said it was "very unusual" for both husband and wife to have Graves' disease or any thyroid abnormality.

"It is likely just a coincidence," Dr. Gorman said. "There is no proven association with any other . . . cause, including viruses or environment or exposure to radiation or anything like that."

Because Mr. Bush is now mildly radioactive from yesterday's treatment, he has been told to use some precautions, said Dr. Burman, "such as not getting near his grandchildren or hugging them or kissing them" for three or four days.

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