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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.

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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?

A. Yes. It shows that you're capable of doing physical activity in which your heart rate and blood pressure go up. In a sense, you're doing a stress test on your heart. If you tolerate that well and you feel good doing it, it suggests good things about your overall level of fitness and therefore your risk of heart disease.

Sex can also be a sign of healthy relationships and social supports. It shows you have the opportunities, frankly, and that you're interested and engaged. I think sex is a barometer for overall health. 

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Reviewed on November 22, 2012

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