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Sex after a heart attack

Adjusting to everyday life after having a heart attack can be a challenge, with uncertainty about what to eat, how much to exercise and how to deal with stress. This conundrum is further complicated by the question of when to resume sexual activity after experiencing such a life-changing event.


According to the American Heart Association, there usually is no need for people who have had a heart attack to refrain from sex. In stable patients with no complications, sexual activity may be safely resumed as early as one week after the event, whereas six to eight weeks are recommended for people who have undergone extensive corrective surgery. Indeed, a recent study in almost 2,000 heart attack patients showed that death rate didn’t differ between people who had sex within one month after their heart attack compared with those who abstained. Nevertheless, many heart attack survivors are reluctant to engage in sexual activity after being discharged from hospital, frequently due to a lack of knowledge about the safety of sex during rehabilitation. In the same study, about half of all participants who were previously sexually active reported reduced sexual activity in the year after hospital discharge, with about one in 10 people completely abstaining from sex in that time. A lack of instructions about the resumption of sexual activity upon hospital discharge was associated with reduced activity in men and women. Less than half of all study participants reported receiving such instructions, with married people more likely to receive sexual counselling compared with their unmarried counterparts.

To reduce fear and uncertainty about resuming sexual relations after a heart attack, cardiologists should provide sexual counselling to all patients, independent of relationship status. If you or a loved one is recovering from a heart attack, get a physical examination and thorough assessment of your ability to deal with the exertion of mild to moderate physical activity before resuming sexual activity.

If you’re anything like Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie Something’s Gotta Give, you’ll be bugging your doctor daily to let you know when it’s safe to get back between the sheets.

References include

1 Levine GN, Steinke EE, et al. Sexual activity and cardiovascular disease: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation 2012;125(8):1058-72
2 Lindau ST, Abramsohn E, et al. Patterns and loss of sexual activity in the year following hospitalization for acute myocardial infarction (a United States national multisite observational study). Am J Cardiol. 2012;109(10):1439-44
3 Nilsson UG, Svedberg P, et al. Sex knowledge in males and females recovering from a myocardial infarction: a brief communication. Clin Nurs Res. May 2012: Published online

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