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Heart Disease Health Center

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Sex After a Heart Attack

By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Robert J Bryg, MD

As a psychologist who has counseled heart patients for more than thirty years, Wayne Sotile, PhD, knows exactly how much they worry about sex after a heart attack.

"And if they're not anxious, believe me, their partner's anxious," he says.

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I had no inkling I had heart disease until December 2005, when I had two minor episodes of mild angina (pain in the chest area). My primary care physician ran an electrocardiogram but saw nothing abnormal. I was an athletic, lean 53-year-old who ate nutritious foods. He decided I was just stressed and gave me the go-ahead to go to Nicaragua on vacation. But while there, the angina went from mild to severe. The pain would come and go, but on three separate occasions the pain was the most massive...

Read the WebMD the Magazine's My Story: Cardiac Recovery article > >

Couples worry about triggering a second heart attack, or even that a patient could die in the bedroom. But Sotile and cardiologists tell WebMD that sex isn't nearly as risky as many patients believe. With a touch of reassurance, heart patients can once again enjoy sex after a heart attack.

Why Fear Sex After a Heart Attack?

While fears of another heart attack or dying are common, patients have also told Sotile that they're afraid of traumatizing their partner if they die during sex. As director of psychological services for the Wake Forest University Healthy Exercise and Lifestyle Programs, Sotile is also a special consultant in behavioral health for the Center for Cardiovascular Health at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Female patients have told Nieca Goldberg, MD, a cardiologist and chief of Women's Cardiac Care at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, about concerns about increased heart rate and sweating during sex after a heart attack. They fear triggering heart attack symptoms.

According to Goldberg, depression also sidelines many patients, especially women.

"Women have higher rates of depression after their heart attacks," she says.

Men are also prone to problems that cause them to put sex on the back burner. Randal Thomas, MD, a preventive cardiologist and director of the Cardiovascular Health Clinic at the Mayo Clinic, says, "A person's life is essentially thrown upside-down. They see their frailty and how close they came to dying, and it can lead to a lot of psychological issues and need for recuperation."

Some patients give up sex after a heart attack, and they're too embarrassed to talk to their doctor about it. Goldberg encourages you to bring up the subject if your doctor doesn't.

"Your doctor should talk to you about sex. With all the high-tech procedures that we do for people to get them back into the community, I also think that we have to ensure them a high quality of life, and sexual activity is part of that."

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