Heart Care: Is sex safe for heart attack survivors?

Heart attack survivors often consider the event as a wake-up call to eat healthier, exercise more, and not sweat the small stuff. But anxiety can accumulate around a taboo topic: resuming a fulfilling sex life.

“It’s a subject that a lot of patients have trouble asking their physicians about due to the nature of the topic,” says Dr. Joseph A. Hill, chief of cardiology at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “Sometimes, physicians need to be the ones to bring it up, to put patients at ease.”

To address this fear, the American Heart Association recently released guidelines to help health care providers comfortably advise patients on resuming a safe sex life following a cardiovascular event, such as heart attack, stroke, or transplant.

“Sex isn’t as risky as some survivors may fear,” Dr. Hill says. “It is unlikely that being sexually active after a heart attack will trigger another attack in most people. If you don’t experience symptoms in your daily life, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or dizziness during exercise, you’re not likely to experience them in bed either.”

Patients and physicians alike should recognize that a healthy sex life contributes to overall quality of life; therefore, while the topic may be perceived as taboo, it is a worthwhile discussion to have.

It’s important for doctors and patients to put their potential embarrassment aside and recognize the importance of sexual counseling, because it can go a long way to help survivors on the road to recovery. 

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