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Health & Sex

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Sex After a Heart Attack: Is It OK?

Our expert weighs in on your top six post-heart attack questions about intimacy.


Q. What are some of the warning signs to stop sex right away?

A. Similar to any type of exercise, if you begin to feel symptoms such as chest pain, abnormal shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, or palpitations, it definitely makes sense to slow down what you're doing, whether you're a man or a woman. If you're pretty certain it's angina, which is temporary pain or pressure in the chest when the heart doesn't get enough oxygen, it might help to take your nitroglycerin.

The exception to that advice is for men who use medication for erectile dysfunction -- it's dangerous to take nitroglycerin, too. Your blood pressure can fall to dangerously low levels, and there's an increased risk of heart attack and even death. If you're on an erectile dysfunction drug and have heart-related symptoms during sex, call your doctor.

Q. Do some men and women lose sexual interest after being diagnosed with heart disease?

A. Yes, and it's often related to the emotions that follow a diagnosis of heart disease. It influences people's lives in many different ways, and sexual activity is one of them. A new diagnosis of heart disease -- or even a surgical scar -- can make people feel less attractive. Some drugs have side effects that diminish sexual interest and performance. When patients feel angry and frustrated, it affects not only their sex lives but also their "couple" relationships.

For many people, heart disease is the first significant diagnosis they ever have. Think of individuals in their 40s or 50s who have a sudden heart attack; they didn't know they had this disease process going on, and now they do. That realization of mortality and potential limits and imperfections is really hard to take. Many people with heart disease feel that shift so abruptly. They question themselves and what they're capable of doing. And that's part of the reason there are anxieties and concerns about sexual activity. We know depression is extremely common after a heart attack, especially for women.

Q. Sex is obviously part of an overall healthy life -- and it's also a sign of a healthy heart, right?

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