Irregular heartbeat, stroke, and arthritis are among the serious health problems facing Pope Benedict XVI as he becomes the first pontiff to step down in 600 years.
The religious leader’s increasing frailty is typical of an elderly patient with a history of stroke, Dr. Chauncey Crandall, one of the nation’s top cardiologists, told Newsmax Health. The Pope reportedly suffered strokes in 1991 and in 2005. He also has arthritis in his hip, knees, and ankles, which affects his ability to walk. Benedict has had balance problems and has been injured in falls several times in recent years.
He had a heart pacemaker implanted years ago, although the Vatican has not revealed the exact time or circumstances. The batteries to the device were replaced three months ago, but that routine procedure had nothing to do with pontiff’s decision to step down, said his spokesperson.
“He may have had a number of small strokes, which may be indicative of end-stage hypertensive heart disease, and he realizes he can no longer make decisions and keep up as well as he used to,” said Dr. Crandall, head of the preventative cardiology department at the world-renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Prior to becoming Pope, Benedict suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in 1991 that temporarily affected his eyesight. He seemed to fully recover, but a year later in 1992 he suffered a blackout and fell in his bathroom, cutting his head. The injury required stitches and a brief hospitalization.
He suffered another stroke in 2005, the Vatican said, and is believed to have a heart condition, the details of which have not been made public. Heart issues may run in his family. Benedict’s older brother also has a heart pacemaker, which is used to correct an irregular heartbeat.
During his 2009 Easter Mass, Benedict briefly stumbled, causing a panic among his aides to prevent him falling headlong down the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica.
While summering in the Italian Alps later that year, he fell and broke his wrist, needing surgery to set it.
Over the past year, there have been news reports of the Pope’s increasing frailty. Many observers have said he looks like he has lost weight and often seems tired. He no longer meets individually with bishops. He also has begun using a moving platform to spare him the fatigue of the walk to and from the altar.
Although his move came as a surprise, Benedict may have foreseen the day his health would cause him to leave the papacy. In a 2010 interview that became his book, The Light of the World, he said: “If a Pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right, and under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign.”