Cheney taken to hospital after complaining of breathlessness

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The Independent US

Dick Cheney spent more than four hours in hospital yesterday after complaining of shortness of breath - a scare that briefly rekindled concerns about the health of the most powerful US vice-president in modern times.

After being rushed to the George Washington hospital at 3am, Mr Cheney was given heart tests and treatment for water retention before being released at 7.30am.

"He's doing fine," President George Bush told reporters during a visit to a suburban school yesterday, adding that the Vice-President would be back at work in the afternoon.

Mr Cheney has a long history of heart troubles, including at least four heart attacks since 1978. He has had quadruple bypass surgery, and two angioplasties to clear arteries. He also wears a pacemaker. Last September he had two small operations to treat aneurysms in both knees.

But the latest problem apparently relates not to his heart but to anti-inflammatory medicaments he was taking for a foot problem.

Last week he caused a small stir when he appeared in public with a cane, and wearing a slipper on the affected foot. Doctors say that such drugs can cause retention of fluid, which can settle in the lung, causing shortness of breath.

Even so, any question about Mr Cheney's health generates the closest scrutiny. Polls may show he is the least popular member of the Bush administration. But he continues to exercise vast influence across government, even following the resignation of his chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was indicted in the CIA leak affair, and the controversy generated by his seeming refusal to eschew the use of torture against terrorist suspects.

Mr Cheney would take over from Mr Bush if the latter died or was incapacitated. So powerful is the Vice-President that, the joke used to run, Mr Bush himself was the proverbial "heart beat from the presidency" should anything happen to Mr Cheney.

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