Treating heart attacks: Changes from Eisenhower’s era to the present day

In the 1950s, doctors offered mainly morphine and bed rest — a far cry from the many procedures and medications provided today.

Published: February, 2021

During a round of golf one autumn afternoon in 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower experienced what he assumed was indigestion. After he awoke at 2 a.m. the following morning with severe chest pain, his personal physician administered several shots of morphine. It wasn't until 1 p.m. that afternoon that an electrocardiogram revealed that the president had experienced a heart attack.

Cardiologist Dr. Thomas Lee, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, detailed Eisenhower's experience in the Oct. 29, 2020, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. His piece focuses mainly on how Eisenhower's cardiologist, Paul Dudley White, communicated the event to the public. As Dr. Lee wrote, "Heart attacks became less mysterious and frightening to millions of Americans that day."

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