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'Sex Talk' Eases Fear of Sex After Heart Attack

More Patients Rekindle Sex Lives if Their Doctors Discuss When It's Safe to Resume Sex
By
WebMD Health News

sex_after_heart_attack_1.jpg

May 21, 2010 -- People who are sexually active before a heart attack tend to be less so after recovering, especially if they don't have the "sex talk" with their doctors, new research shows.

In a survey of heart attack patients, only about half of men and a third of women said their cardiologist discussed when it would be safe to resume sex prior to hospital discharge. Just 40% of men and 20% of women reported talking about the issue with a doctor in the year after their heart attack.

The survey also shows that sexual activity declined for both men and women during the year following a heart attack. 

After adjusting for multiple factors, the researchers found that men were 30% more likely and women were 40% more likely to report a decline in sexual activity when their doctors failed to discuss sex with them after a heart attack.

The study was reported this week in Washington, D.C., at an American Heart Association meeting examining care and outcomes following heart attack and stroke.

"We found that one important difference between people who did and did not resume sexual activity after a heart attack was whether their doctor discussed the issue with them at hospital discharge," study researcher Stacy Tessler Lindau, MD, tells WebMD.

Safety of Sex After Heart Attack

Most people can safely rekindle their sex lives within a few weeks of having an uncomplicated heart attack, as long as they feel up to it and are able to engage in other moderate activities.

But many patients fear that sex will bring on another heart attack. And even when they are not afraid, their partners often are.

But the risk is so small it could be considered negligible, Murray A. Mittleman, MD, of Harvard Medical School tells WebMD.

The chance that sex will trigger a heart attack is about two in a million in a healthy person without heart disease. In people with heart disease, that risk increases to one in 50,000, but this is still extremely low. And no increase in risk is seen in heart attack survivors who exercise regularly.

"Exercise is very important following a heart attack for all sorts of reasons, and this is one more," Mittleman says. "Exercise virtually eliminates the risk of having a heart attack associated with sexual activity."

Doctor-Patient Discussions

The latest study included 1,184 men and 576 women surveyed one month and one year after having a heart attack. The average age of the men was 59 and the average age of the women was 61.

Men were more likely to report being sexually active prior to having their heart attack, and they were more likely to be married than the female heart patients. But even after adjusting for these differences, patients hospitalized for a heart attack who had a discussion with their doctors about sex were more likely to have sex during the following year.

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