Sex okay after heart attack but ask your doctor for details

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

According to findings from the American Heart Association, sex after a heart attack declines, especially when patients fail to get details from their doctor about resuming sexual activity. Few patients or clinicians discuss the issue. Sex after a heart attack is okay, but it’s important to open up a discussion with your doctor about when it is safe to resume sex.

A recent study revealed that few men and women who have heart attacks ask about resuming sexual activity. The study that included 1,184 men and 576 women found that less than 20 percent of women and about 40 percent of men even spoke with their physicians about sex after experiencing a heart attack. When men and women don’t get instructions from their doctor the researchers say sexual activity declines, but also point out that sex is a very important part of life.

Stacy Tessler Lindau, M.D., lead author of the study and associate professor of obstetrics/gynecology and medicine-geriatrics at the University of Chicago says, "Sexuality is an important part of life throughout life, and most heart attack patients are sexually active. For the most part, physicians just aren't discussing this topic with their patients after a heart attack."

Researchers found that sexual activity declines after heart attack. Patients given instructions at hospital discharge were more likely to resume sex. The study authors say it is important to understand what happens to the sex lives of heart attack survivors given increased survival rates and the relationship between sexual health and quality of life.


John A. Spertus, M.D., M.P.H., Clinical Director of Outcomes Research at Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute/UMKC and Principal Investigator of the TRIUMPH - Translational Research Investigating Underlying Disparities in Recovery from Acute Myocardial Infarction: Patients’ Health Status Study - says studies are lacking. “Little is known about what happens to patients' sexuality and sexual function after a heart attack, particularly for women."

No one knows what kind of instructions patients are getting from hospitals about resuming sex after a heart attack. Depending on the amount of heart damage, and outcome of follow up visits, it may be perfectly safe to resume normal sexual activity – for other patients, more information might be needed after hospital discharge, including follow-up testing that can measure risk factors for a second heart attack. However, Lindau says, “The likelihood of dying during sexual intercourse, even among people who have had a heart attack, is really small.” For most patients, sexual activity is safe a few weeks after heart attack, but may not be if there are complications to consider - thus the importance of asking your doctor for details.

Patients should feel free to ask their doctor about sexual activity after a heart attack, and clinicians should be proactive about addressing the issue. The scientists also warn that stereotypes don’t work when it comes to addressing the sexual health of patients. An example includes older patients who have heart attack and are unmarried, but nevertheless involved with a romantic partner.

The new study shows we know little about what instructions - if any - physicians are giving patients about resuming sex after a heart attack. The findings also show that heart attack survivors who are given instructions about resuming sex after a heart attack are more likely to have sex that also improves quality of life.