After U.S. President-elect Joe Biden suffered a hairline fracture in his ankle while playing with his dog in late November 2020, the physical and mental health of the career politician once again took center stage in social media circles. The 78-year-old's health raised the question of whether he was “too old” to be president.
Some Twitter users even speculated on whether the seriousness of the soon-to-be 46th president’s fall, which involved a CT scan, was being downplayed.
In the weeks following the 2020 general election in the U.S., a number of Snopes readers asked us to investigate Biden's physical-health history after he was declared the winner of the presidential contest. Questions posited by social media users included those that speculated whether Biden had also experienced two brain aneurysms that required surgery. This is true.
After his bid for president was announced on April 25, 2019, Biden published a medical assessment on Dec. 15, 2019, in which his doctor described the aneurysms. (The report is also archived here for reference.)
“The most noteworthy health incident that Vice President Biden has experienced was his intracranial hemorrhage from a cerebral aneurysm in 1988. His aneurysm was repaired surgically,” wrote Dr. Kevin O’Connor, an associate professor of medicine and the director of executive medicine at George Washington University, who treated Biden at the time.
“During this workup, his team discovered a second aneurysm, which had not bled. This was also treated. He has never had any recurrences of any aneurysms. A 2014 CT angiogram showed no recurrence of disease.”
In a The New York Times article published on May 4, 1988, the outlet reported that a spokesperson for the then-senator said that the 45-year-old was "resting comfortably" after his second surgery that year to correct an artery:
The 4 1/2-hour procedure was similar to that performed Feb. 12 on the left side of Mr. Biden's brain. Under the procedure, a surgeon using a microscope pinches the aneurysm with a clip, bringing the walls of the artery together. The clip remains in the patient.
An intracranial hemorrhage refers to any bleeding between the brain tissue and skull, or within the brain tissue itself, according to the nonprofit medical center Cleveland Clinic. This is also colloquially known as a “brain bleed.” The Columbia University Department of Neurology describes a cerebral aneurysm as a “bulging, weakened area in the wall of an artery in the brain” that can result in an “abnormal widening, ballooning, or bleb.” This weakened area in the artery wall can pose the risk of a rupture. Ninety percent of cerebral aneurysms present without any symptoms and measure less than four-tenths of an inch in diameter, posing a low risk of rupture.
A computed tomography scan, more commonly known as a CT scan, is a non-invasive imaging procedure that provides more details than a general X-ray and can be used on any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs, noted Stanford Health Care. In short, it can be used to identify both hairline factures in an ankle and potential aneurysms in the brain that have ruptured.