Image: Vice President Dick Cheney
AFP - Getty Images file
Vice President Dick Cheney is seen here last week before a speech at the Heritage Foundation.
NBC News and news services
updated 1/9/2006 3:33:33 PM ET 2006-01-09T20:33:33

Vice President Dick Cheney was released from George Washington University Hospital on Monday morning, more than four hours after being rushed there due to shortness of breath.

Cheney waved to reporters as he left the hospital.

Spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride said that Cheney had been taken to the hospital at 3 a.m. ET. Doctors found his EKG unchanged and determined he was retaining fluid because of medication he was taking for a foot problem.

Cheney, who has a long history of heart problems and has a pacemaker in his chest, was placed on a diuretic.

A foot ailment forced Cheney to use a cane on Friday.

It was unclear exactly what medication Cheney was taking for his foot ailment, but a side effect of commonly used anti-inflammatory drugs is fluid retention, which can cause swelling and shortness of breath and strain the heart muscle.

Fluid can also leave the circulatory system and accumulate in various parts of the body, including the lungs, which can cause a shortness of breath.

Side effect ‘not rare’
All anti-inflammatory drugs — popularly known as NSAIDs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, including such drugs as ibuprofen and naprosyn — can cause that side effect. Now that Cheney has suffered it, he should avoid those medications, said Dr. Stuart Seides, associate cardiology director at Washington Hospital Center.

“It’s not common, but it’s certainly not rare,” he said of the side effect. “Non-steroidals, many of which are over-the-counter, are not entirely benign drugs. The fact that they are sold over-the-counter does not mean that they don’t have potent physiologic effects.”

But once the side effect is treated, Cheney should suffer no lasting harm from the episode, Seides said. “It should have no effect on him or his long-term prognosis,” he said.

The condition is usually treated with a diuretic.

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Detailed statement
Later Monday, after several calls seeking more details, Cheney's office provided the following statement: 

“The Vice President is feeling well, and will resume his afternoon schedule at the White House. He has occasional bouts with inflammation in his left foot, sometimes in the heel, which has been diagnosed as tendonitis, sometimes in the joint of his big toe, which has not been definitively diagnosed.

“Some doctors have suggested it might be gout, but he does not suffer from the acute pain usually associated with gout, nor does he have raised levels of uric acid in his blood, which is also associated with gout. Other doctors have suggested that osteoarthritis is the cause.”

Not tied to September surgery
McBride, Cheney's spokeswoman, earlier said the foot condition was not related to surgery last September to repair aneurysms behind both knees or the 64-year-old vice president’s lengthy history of heart problems.

He has had four heart attacks, quadruple bypass surgery, two artery-clearing angioplasties and an operation to implant a special pacemaker in his chest.

Cheney has a long history of health problems and suffered his first heart attack in 1978 when he was 37. Ten years later, after his third heart attack, he had quadruple bypass surgery to clear clogged arteries.

Cheney, who has not suffered a heart attack since he became vice president in 2001, began a daily exercise program in 2000 and started eating healthier.

He quit smoking in 1978 and takes medication to lower his cholesterol.

The Associated Press and NBC's Kelly O'Donnell contributed to this report.

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