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Love can cause heartache and even heart break. These are mere figures of speech, but what about people who have had a heart attack or heart surgery? Can someone with heart disease safely have sex?
Imagine the heart as a pump. It receives incoming blood from the whole body through the veins, then pumps it back out to the body through the arteries. It regulates its pumping action with a complex arrangement of electrical controllers called pacemakers. The term heart disease can encompass any condition that affects the blood vessels, the pacemakers, or the heart muscle itself.
A significant component of heart disease is atherosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries. When arteries become clogged with plaque, caused by the build-up of fatty materials, blood flows less freely. And the tissues supplied by those arteries can die from lack of oxygen and other nutrients. When the tissue being supplied is the heart, the resulting condition is known as a myocardial infarction, or heart attack.
The survival and well-being of people after a heart attack depends on how much of the heart muscle dies. The prognosis for people who have had a heart attack is drastically improved over previous decades, due primarily to advances in medicine, such as bypass surgery, angioplasty, and coronary stenting.
The American Heart Association (AHA) provides guidelines on sexual activity for people who have heart disease. The AHA points out that if your heart condition is stabilized, it is probably safe for you to have sex. Your doctor can discuss this important issue with you and give you a timeline as to how long you should wait until you have sex. This timeline depends on factors like your diagnosis, the type of treatment you had, and the results of an exercise stress test.
Once your doctor has given you clearance to have sex, keep these tips in mind:
Also, remember that it is normal to feel some anxiety about having another heart attack, but the risk is extremely low. The more you learn about your condition and your treatment plan, the better you will feel about returning to normal activities, including sex. However, if feelings of anxiety or depression are negatively impacting your life, tell your doctor right away. You can be referred to a therapist who can help you work through your thoughts and emotions and develop effective coping skills. You and your partner can also be referred to a sexual counselor. By taking good care of your physical and mental health, you can recover from your heart attack and again share intimate moments with your partner.
American Heart Association
National Institute on Aging
Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Acute coronary syndromes. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 18, 2016. Accessed January 28, 2016.
Heart attack: Tips for recovering and staying well. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/heart-attack/treatment/tips-for-recovering-and-staying-well.html. Updated March 2014. Accessed January 28, 2016.
Levine GN, Steinke EE, Bakaeen FG, et al. Sexual activity and cardiovascular disease: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation 2012;125(8):1058-1072.
Sex and heart disease. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/MyHeartandStrokeNews/Sex-and-Heart-Disease_UCM_436414_Article.jsp#.VqpJ6E2FMdU. Updated September 16, 2015. Accessed January 28, 2016.
ST-elevation mycardial infarction (STEMI). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 14, 2015. Accessed January 28, 2016.
8/12/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Steinke EE, Jaarsma T, Barnason SA, et al. Sexual counseling for individuals with cardiovascular disease and their partners: a consensus document from the American Heart Association and the ESC Council on Cardiovascular Nursing and Applied Professions (CCNAP). Circulation. 2013;128(18):2075-2096.
Last reviewed January 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 1/28/2016