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Bachmann given good bill of health from Congress' physician

In response to reports about the presidential candidate's migraines, the Minnesota congresswoman releases a letter by Dr. Brian P. Monahan stating she is able to control the headaches and avoid the triggers.

July 21, 2011|By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times
  • Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann boards her bus after speaking at a backyard chat with residents in Norwalk, Iowa, where she faced questions from reporters about her migraines.
Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann boards her bus… (Charlie Neibergall, Associated…)

Reporting from West Des Moines, Iowa — Trying for a second day to brush aside questions about whether her migraine headaches would affect her ability to serve as president, Republican candidate Michele Bachmann released a letter from Congress' attending physician stating that she was "overall in good general health."

The letter released late Wednesday by Dr. Brian P. Monahan said that the Minnesota congresswoman had a "well-established diagnosis of migraine headaches with aura." The letter said evaluations by Monahan's office, as well as by a board-certified consulting neurologist, included brain scans and detailed lab work, which were normal.

"Your migraines occur infrequently and have known trigger factors of which you are aware and know how to avoid," Monahan wrote in the letter to Bachmann. "When you do have a migraine, you are able to control it well with as-needed sumatriptan and ondansetron," he said. The first medication is commonly used for treatment of migraines and the second lessens nausea, often a side effect of the headaches.

The physician added that Bachmann had not needed daily medications to manage the condition or medical attention from his office. When asked about the "trigger factors" for the headaches, Bachmann's spokeswoman said in an email that "the letter speaks for itself."

Bachmann's health became a campaign issue this week after the Daily Caller published a story asserting that her migraines were occasionally incapacitating and have required hospitalization in some instances.

Bachmann's strategy for dealing with media inquiries about her health varied during her campaign events Wednesday. After a "backyard chat" with voters in Norwalk, Iowa, on Wednesday morning, aides circled her as she greeted voters to form a protective barrier between Bachmann and reporters who approached to ask questions.

But after her spokeswoman said the candidate was taking questions only from voters, Bachmann interrupted to say she would address the matter.

"We were voting last night in Washington, D.C.; we got here at about 1 o'clock in the morning — I keep a very rigorous schedule," she said. "I feel great. So we've answered that. What I'm here to talk about is the debt ceiling, and I think it's been very clear that people in Iowa do not want us to continue government spending and increase the debt ceiling. Everywhere I go this is what people are talking about."

As reporters tried to follow up, Bachmann aides and supporters surrounded her and rushed her up to the porch and inside her host's home.

Later at Palmer's Deli in West Des Moines — where she scratched her request for a spinach salad and instead ordered chili with "lots of onions" as well as a grilled "Hawaiian" sandwich with ham, bacon, cheese, pineapple and banana peppers — she demonstrated steely message discipline during a brief media conference in front of her campaign bus.

Asked whether she would release her medical records and how frequently her headaches occur, she noted that she had released a statement on the issue and immediately pivoted to the debt ceiling.

"The focus that I've had, again, is on the fact that as commander in chief I'm going to make sure that we get our fiscal house in order," she said. "I will not be looking at raising the debt ceiling; that's not what I'm hearing."

When asked whether the migraine questions were becoming a distraction, she again turned to spending issues, waved goodbye and boarded her bus.

Presidential candidates have dealt with questions about their health in different manners over the years. After facing questions about his episodes of the skin cancer melanoma, 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain allowed a small group of reporters to review more than 1,200 pages of medical records from the previous eight years.

The campaign of President Obama, who smoked while he was running for president, released a one-page summary of his medical history from his doctor in May 2008.

Some of Bachmann's admirers have already begun to express annoyance about the questions regarding the candidate's health. In Norwalk, a man lectured reporters: "We don't care about the migraines."

After meeting Bachmann in West Des Moines, Maxine Maggard, 74, and her son Lance Maggard, 51, described the headache reports as just another "political ploy."

"It would have no effect on how she would govern," Lance Maggard said.

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