Is it safe to have sex after a heart attack?

After a heart attack, you may worry that you will not be able to return to a satisfying sex life with your partner. This is a common fear among heart disease patients. And unfortunately, many heart disease patients are too embarrassed to broach the topic with their cardiologist.

One of the best things you can do for your sexual health after a heart attack is talk to your cardiologist. He or she can give you guidelines for when it is safe to resume sexual activity after a heart attack. Sex affects your body like any physical exercise. Once you have been approved to resume exercise, there is no reason why you cannot also resume sexual activity. To determine if your heart can appropriately withstand exercise, your physician may have you undergo a stress test. During a stress test, you walk on a treadmill or are given medication to make your heart beat faster, as if you are exercising. Your heart activity is monitored during the test for any problems.

You may also find after a heart attack that your perception of your body has changed, that you are experiencing depression or that your libido is lower than before. This is all perfectly normal. Having a heart attack is a traumatic, life-changing event. Be patient with yourself as you recover, and discuss your fears or concerns with your partner, physician, support group or therapist.

Francis X. Downey, MD
Thoracic Surgery (Cardiothoracic Vascular)
After a heart attack or heart surgery, most patients can safely return to the lovemaking they enjoyed before their illness. You may fear that sex will be too much of a strain on your heart now. This is a common concern, but keep in mind that sex is not the strain you may think it is. During sex, your heart rate and blood pressure rise, and you breathe faster. These are normal responses, but you may be more aware of them now. The heart behaves in much the same way as it does when you're climbing two flights of stairs or taking a brisk walk. The heart works hardest during orgasm, which lasts only 15 to 30 seconds.
Jan L. Shifren, MD
Reproductive Endocrinology
After a heart attack, many people fear that the exertion of sex will bring on another attack. In reality, the cardiovascular demands of sex are relatively mild -- about the equivalent of walking briskly up two flights of stairs. A study in The Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that chances are only one in a million that a man who had previously had a heart attack would have another during or immediately following sex. Men who exercise regularly are the least likely to have a heart attack during sex.

Although your healthcare provider will give you specific instructions when you leave the hospital, most people should be ready to resume normal sexual activity within four weeks after a heart attack. If you're recovering from bypass surgery, you may have to wait six weeks before having sex, and you may need to avoid positions that could strain your incision.

Likewise, chronic stable angina should not be a barrier to sex if you're accustomed to doing other things that require the same level of exertion. Some cautions apply, though. You cannot use Viagra, Levitra, or Cialis if you're taking a medication that contains nitrates (such as nitroglycerine); the interaction of these drugs can cause a life-threatening drop in blood pressure. People with unstable angina may need to abstain from sexual activity altogether. If you have this condition, consult your healthcare provider before engaging in sex.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Worrying about sex after a heart attack can be harder on the heart than having sex. Sex reduces stress and reducing stress (and having a great partner with whom you enjoy life) helps reduce heart-stopping belly fat. That's one reason why sex twice a week cuts your risk of heart attack in half.

So, snuggle up with your honey, find a position that's comfortable, and remember, you're doing this for your health!

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.