updated 1/24/2006 8:45:38 AM ET 2006-01-24T13:45:38

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s health problems were more serious than doctors indicated before the stroke that has left him comatose, an Israeli newspaper reported Tuesday, citing unnamed doctors at Hadassah University Hospital.

The Haaretz newspaper said Sharon had a large aneurysm in the septum between the chambers of his heart. He also suffered from a shunt that causes blood to flow in the wrong direction through a tiny hole in the septum, the newspaper said.

The aneurysm is a known source of cerebral blood clots, the newspaper said. The prime minister also had other conditions in the cardiac septum that made him vulnerable to blood clots potentially entering his brain, the newspaper said.

After a minor stroke on Dec. 18, which was caused by a small blood clot, Sharon’s neurologist, Dr. Tamir Ben-Hur, said the 77-year-old prime minister’s condition was generally good except that he was overweight.

Blood thinners were prescribed to lessen the risk of further clotting, but they also increased the risk of hemorrhaging in the brain.

Doctors later said Sharon had a tiny hole in his cardiac septum, which was to have been repaired on Jan 5. On the eve of that procedure, he suffered the second stroke.

Hadassah Hospital spokeswoman Yael Bossem-Levy dismissed the Haaretz report as containing nothing new. “Everything that appears in the item was discussed at the news conference” where the hole in the septum was disclosed, she said.

Haaretz cited senior doctors as saying that repairing the septum usually requires early treatment with blood thinners and cardiac catheterization.

But they said it also required closer surveillance because the blood thinner could have been extremely dangerous due to the additional disease discovered, cerebral amyloid angiopathy.

Medical sources told Haaretz that Sharon's doctors had an ethical obligation to tell the prime minister and his family of the risks involved in giving him the blood thinners.

Sharon was put in an induced coma to heal from three brain operations, but he remains unconscious after being weaned off sedatives last week. Outside medical experts say Sharon’s failure to regain consciousness bodes poorly for his prospects of recovery. Sharon deputy Ehud Olmert has been acting prime minister.

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