Sex and Heart Attacks: What You Need to Know

Sex and Heart Attacks: What You Need to Know

Two of the biggest questions for people who have suffered a heart attack or have heart disease are: Can sex cause a heart attack, and when is it okay to have sex after a heart attack? 

Worrying about the strain sex can put on your cardiovascular system is a legitimate concern. And while enjoying regular daily activities that make you happy is important for overall quality of life, if you have cardiovascular disease (CVD) or have had a cardiovascular event, here are the facts are you should be aware of when it comes to sex. 

Succumbing to Passion

Like any aerobic activity, sexual activity does elevate your heart rate, but only slightly – generally raising it between 110 and 120 beats per minute. But the likelihood of sex triggering a heart attack is exceedingly rare. According to a study by Harvard Medical School researchers, sexual activity contributes to less than one percent of all heart attacks. Calculated another way by one expert, the absolute risk for a 50-year-old male who exercises regularly of having a heart attack during or immediately after sex is just one chance in a million per hour. 

In fact, research has shown that women with satisfying sex lives and men who enjoy sex at least twice a week are less at risk for having a heart attack than those who only have sex once a month or less.

If you have stable heart disease and can climb at least two flights of stairs or briskly walk a mile without issues, having sex is considered safe and you shouldn’t be overly worried, according to medical guidelines. It’s just a form of physical activity, and like any aerobic activity, experts say the long-term benefits far outweigh potential risks. For instance, having sex can help strengthen  your heart, reduce stress and lower blood pressure.

Sex Post-Heart Attack or Heart Surgery

If you’ve suffered a heart attack or heart failure, your cardiologist and primary care physician will likely recommend that you wait three to six weeks before having sex and to take it slowly with simple acts of intimacy before building up to the sex life you enjoyed before your cardiac event. 

If you’ve had heart surgery, you may need to wait longer for your breast plate and incisions to heal. Whether surgery or a heart attack, you will also likely be advised to avoid positions that put pressure on your chest plate, and avoid laying on your back during intercourse, which can lead to fluid pooling in the lungs. It’s recommended to start with less strenuous positions, such as sitting or the missionary position. 

Psychological Impact

In addition to physical concerns, having CVD or surviving a heart attack can cause feelings and fears of your life being fragile. You may feel depressed about your life being turned upside down and not as enjoyable as it was before. This can have more impact on your sex life than concerns over the physical impact of being sexually active, and together lead many with heart disease — and especially after having a heart attack — to quit sex altogether. CVD patients can also struggle with the nulling effects heart medications can have on mood, emotions, and libido. Your doctor may recommend counseling or therapy if this is the case.

The Bottom Line

While living with CVD can be distressing, most people shouldn’t worry about sex triggering heart problems. Discuss concerns with your doctor and cardiologist and adhere to their guidance about which sexual activities are safe for your circumstance and when. 

If you experience any chest pain or discomfort, difficulty breathing, irregular heartbeat, indigestion or nausea, you should abstain from having sex and consult your doctor right away. If you don’t have a doctor, consider partnering with an MDVIP-affiliated physician. MDVIP doctors have the time to work with you to help you control cardiovascular disease. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health » 

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