After a Heart Attack
Can you have sex?
The Importance of Sex
Understandably, survival is the first order of business for someone who has
had a heart attack. After that, other aspects of life need attention, too.
"Sex is one of the first things that should be addressed after a person has
a heart attack," says Dean Ornish, MD, author of Love and Survival:
Eight Pathways to Intimacy and Health, and founder of the Preventive
Medicine Research Institute in San Francisco.
Many doctors don't address sexual issues for several reasons, says Ornish.
"Sexuality isn't valued in our culture," he says. "Doctors weren't
trained to deal with sexual issues, and they often don't have the time to talk
Getting the Help You Need
In a perfect world, doctors would sit down and discuss the patient's
concerns thoroughly. But in reality, it's often up to patients or their loved
ones to press their doctors for information.
A couple might consider asking which medications that boost sexual
functioning are safe, if help is needed, Kloner says. For instance, Viagra, the
erection-inducing drug, may or may not work for men with heart problems. For
those who take nitrates, Viagra can cause dangerous falls in blood pressure. It
is generally deemed safe, however, in stable heart patients when taken with
other high blood pressure and heart medications, according to Kloner, whose
research on the topic will be published soon in the American Journal of
Sometimes, patients or their families also find it helpful to reach out to
others who have had the same experience. Mary took action by joining a support
Getting Back on Track
As the bond between Mary and Albert began to dissolve, Mary sought help
through a local support group for spouses of heart attack survivors and soon
came home with some new rules.
"She told me we had to talk about something other than my heart
attack," Albert says. "At first I was hurt because I didn't think she
cared whether I lived or died, but then I realized she was correct. It was a
relief because I could sense the tension between us. We worked on putting the
thrill back into our love lives."
They continued to follow the doctor's orders, but they also tried to return
their sex life and social life to normal. As the Zarlengos soon learned,
Albert's heart attack was an opportunity to reconnect as an intimate couple.
They also discovered that their improved sex life aided in his recovery,
because intimacy has a positive effect on well-being, according to Ornish.