Many Women Worry About Sex After Heart Attack
It's a hidden concern that doctors need to discuss more, experts say
By Amy Norton
WEDNESDAY, July 24 (HealthDay News) -- After a heart attack, women often worry about the safety of having sex again, and many wish their doctors would talk about the issue more.
So finds a study involving interviews with 17 women who'd survived a heart attack in the past two years. The researchers found that while most rekindled their sex lives within a month of the attack, many also remained fearful about how sex could affect their hearts.
What's more, few had discussed the issue with their doctors. And when they had, it was the women, not the doctors, who brought the topic up.
"Unfortunately, that's not surprising," said Emily Abramsohn, a researcher at the University of Chicago who worked on the study, published online July 24 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
The women, who averaged 60 years of age, were all part of a larger study following heart attack survivors' health. In that study, only 47 percent of men and 35 percent of women said their doctors had talked to them about resuming their sex lives.
Fears around the cardiac dangers of sex may be unfounded, experts say. Many studies have shown that for most heart attack survivors, sex is a low-risk activity. Less than 1 percent of all heart attacks are triggered during sex, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Still, doctors may be unsure about what specific advice to give, said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a cardiologist and director of women and heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
There are guidelines on the topic, issued just last year from the AHA and the American College of Cardiology. These recommendations offer up some general parameters: Sex is "reasonable," for instance, when heart patients can climb two flights of stairs without having chest pain or trouble breathing.
One woman in the new study said her doctor told her just that. The problem, she said, was, "I couldn't hardly climb two flights of stairs before I had a heart attack."
"We need to be able to tell patients more than that," said Steinbaum, who is also the author of Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum's Heart Book, which addresses women's heart health, including sexual activity.
Sex involves emotional and mental well-being, too, Steinbaum noted, and women may have concerns about it even if they feel physically fit. Depression, for instance, is common after a heart attack, and that might affect a woman's sexual functioning.
"We need to address the emotional and psychosocial issues, too," Steinbaum said.
Abramsohn agreed that doctors may not know what to say on the subject, and noted that there are also practical obstacles.
In the immediate term, your doctor is concerned with saving your life, she explained. Then, when you're being discharged from the hospital, the doctor may be focused on your medications or cardiac rehab; any discussion of sexual well-being may get lost.