Image: Former Vice President Dick Cheney at CPAC
Robert Giroux  /  Getty Images file
 Former Vice President Dick Cheney speaks to attendees at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 18, in Washington, DC. He was hospitalized with chest pains on Monday.
updated 2/23/2010 8:44:07 PM ET 2010-02-24T01:44:07

Former Vice President Dick Cheney is recovering from a "mild heart attack," his latest bout in a long battle against heart disease.

Cheney was feeling fine on Tuesday and probably will be sent home from a Washington hospital within a day or two, aides aid. He experienced chest pain on Monday, and lab results revealed evidence of the heart attack, spokesman Peter Long said.

"The whole family has been working with heart disease for decades, and they are vigilant and attuned to treatment," said political consultant Mary Matalin, a friend and former counselor to Cheney.

She added that Cheney, now 69, "knows how to live with this disease" and is fortunate to have great doctors.

The news came just more than a week after Cheney and Vice President Joe Biden essentially dueled each across different Sunday television talk shows, bickering over national security, credit for success in Iraq and Iran's nuclear program. Even more recently, Cheney made a surprise appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference, delighting the partisan crowd with statements like, "I think Barack Obama is a one-term president."

Biden called Cheney on Tuesday to wish him well, as did Cheney's old boss, former President George W. Bush.

Fifth heart attack
The heart attack is Cheney's fifth since age 37. A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart muscle is blocked.

After being admitted to George Washington University Hospital, Cheney underwent a stress test and a heart catheterization, according to a statement from his office. The statement did not say whether an angioplasty — a procedure to clear a blockage — was performed.

It is possible to have blockages in blood vessels too small to warrant that procedure.

Regardless, while a mild heart attack does not by definition do much damage to the heart muscle, cumulative ones add up.

"We know he's got bad heart function to start. Any degree of loss of heart tissue is going to impair his heart function more," said interventional cardiologist Dr. William O'Neill, executive dean for clinical affairs at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

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Matalin said Cheney was feeling fine. She said the former vice president watched the Olympics on Monday night, had lunch with his family on Tuesday, has kept up good humor and deeply enjoyed writing his book.

While Bush kept his promise and got off the national political stage, Cheney has remained ever prominent as a voice of opposition to the Obama administration. Under Bush, he was regarded as the most powerful vice president in history. Cheney's public career spanned decades, including service as a lawmaker, a defense secretary and a White House chief of staff.

Pacemaker implanted
Cheney had bypass surgery in 1988, as well as two later angioplasties to clear narrowed coronary arteries, and bypasses tend to last about a decade before the rerouted blood vessels start to clog.

In 2001, he had a special pacemaker implanted in his chest. In addition, doctors in 2008 restored a normal rhythm to his heart with an electric shock. It was the second time in less than a year that Cheney had experienced and been treated for an atrial fibrillation, an abnormal rhythm involving the upper chambers of the heart.

Cheney has sparred with the Obama administration over plans to close the U.S. detention facility for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and hold the trials of several detainees in civilian courts rather than military tribunals. Yet when Biden and Cheney spoke for roughly five minutes on Tuesday, it was all friendly and personal, Biden's office said.

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Video: Tests showed evidence of mild heart attack

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