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Sex After a Heart Attack

When Can You Resume Sex After a Heart Attack? continued...

"Sex is generally physical activity, and some doctors have even said it's the equivalent of walking up a flight of steps," Goldberg says. "It's not as vigorous an activity as some people perceive."

Patients may not even need an exercise stress test first to check how much physical activity their heart can handle according to Thomas. In general, patients can resume sex after a heart attack if they are "able to walk a couple of flights of stairs, if they're able to walk on a treadmill, or do moderate-intensity activity without any chest discomfort or without any severe shortness of breath," says Thomas.

Sex after a heart attack is safe even after successful bypass surgery or angioplasty in which stents are placed inside arteries to keep them open, according to Goldberg. However, bypass patients may need additional time to recover from their surgical wounds.

Certain high-risk patients do need to be more cautious, however. If they've developed complications from a heart attack--for example, heart failure or dangerous heart rhythms that make them prone to heart attack, cardiac arrest, or fainting-they may need additional treatment. Until these treatments work to reduce their cardiac risk, they should ask their doctor when it will be safe to resume sexual activity.

A Few Words of Caution

  • Viagra and Other Erectile Dysfunction Drugs: These drugs do not mix well with nitroglycerin, which many heart patients take to relieve angina, or chest pain. The FDA warns that the combination can send blood pressure plummeting to unsafe levels and cause dizziness, fainting, heart attack or stroke. "There have been some reports of death," Thomas says. "Anybody who's had a heart attack or heart surgery should definitely be cleared through their doctor before they think of using any of the medications for sexual dysfunction."

  • Beta Blockers: These drugs are used to treat high blood pressure and other heart problems. They can also reduce risk of heart attack in people who have already had one. These drugs can increase risk of sexual dysfunction for both men and women. That's especially true at high doses, according to Thomas. Beta blockers may cause you to feel depressed, Goldberg says. "You may not feel like having sex."

  • Warning Signs to Stop: If you have chest pain, extreme shortness of breath, or an irregular heartbeat during sex, stop and rest. If the problem doesn't go away, call 911. "With any kind of physical activity, we'll breathe harder and our heart will beat faster," Thomas says. "If it's more than the usual type of shortness of breath or more than a moderate increase in heart rate, that would be a sign to stop and to potentially seek medical attention."

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