Fed chief Yellen 'feels fine' after dehydration scare

US Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen pauses at the end of her speech at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Massachusetts on Sept 24, 2015.
US Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen pauses at the end of her speech at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Massachusetts on Sept 24, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen received medical attention on Thursday after coughing, pausing and struggling to finish a speech in which she said the US central bank was on track to raise interest rates this year for the first time in nearly a decade.

"Chair Yellen felt dehydrated at the end of a long speech under bright lights," Fed spokeswoman Michelle Smith said in an email. "As a precaution, she was seen by (emergency medical) staff on site at UMass Amherst. She felt fine afterwards and has continued with her schedule Thursday evening."

A university spokesman said she was attending a dinner event as planned.

The 69-year-old Fed chief, who had been speaking for nearly an hour before a packed university auditorium here, appeared to lose her place in reading the last few lines of her speech on inflation. She abruptly said: "Let me stop there."

As head of the world's most powerful central bank, Yellen plays a major role in the global economy and has been at the centre of speculation over when the Fed would finally raise rates after being at near zero for almost seven years now, a move that would reverberate through financial markets worldwide.

The frightening few moments, in which Ms Yellen appeared to lose her concentration a few times in a speech at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, came in her first public comments a week after she explained the Fed's decision to delay the much-anticipated policy tightening.

For Ms Yellen it had been a long day at the university that started with a breakfast with graduate students and faculty, according to three people who were there.

Nearing the end of her speech, she began to slow and then lost her place in reading her notes, before pausing for 20 seconds, beginning again and then taking another 25-second break.

The audience sat in silence as she coughed and appeared slightly flushed before awkwardly concluding.

As she struggled, two people rushed from the audience to the stage door to help her. Michael Ash, chairman of the school's economics department, quickly joined Yellen on stage, whispering: "Are you ok?" He gave her a plaque and followed her off stage, with Ms Yellen smiling faintly and walking slowly but without assistance.

As people departed the auditorium, one was heard saying,"That was scary."

Minutes later, two medical workers standing near the backstage doors said they attended to the Fed chair. One of the workers was carrying oxygen equipment.

The Fed declined to comment on whether Ms Yellen, who has not been known to suffer from any health problems, intended to seek a medical check-up.

Any questions about Ms Yellen's own health could unsettle financial markets that have been skittish about the health of the global economy and the impact of a Fed rate hike, which could rock bond markets and suck capital from emerging markets.