Sex is safe for most heart patients says AHA

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
heart disease, heart attack, sex, cardiac rehab, exercise, erectiledysfunction

According to a new study by the American Heart Association (AHA), if an individual with stable heart disease can climb stairs, he or she can have sex.

The AHA report was published online on January 19 in the journal Circulation. In addition, the study notes that their recommendations hold true for patients with and without a history of heart disease. Compared to individuals who have not suffered a heart attack, individuals, who have suffered a heart attack are at increased risk for a heart attack, having sex only slightly raises the risk second heart attack.

Lead author, Glenn Levine, a professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston noted that many heart patients do not think twice about climbing a flight of stairs; however, many worry that sexual activity will cause another heart attack - or even sudden death. The study authors note that sex is something that physicians should discuss with all heart patients; however, few do because they agree uncomfortable talking about it or they lack information.


Before engaging in sexual activity, heart patients should get a doctor’s approval. Many may be first advised to undergo a cardiac rehab program, which entails exercising while being attached to a heart monitor. These programs are designed to improve cardiac health and physical fitness. According to the AHA, following such a program should eventually lead to a clearance for sexual activity.

The AHA offers the following guidelines, which are based on scientific research involving sometimes provocative sex-related topics:

  • Risk for sudden death: The risk is greatest for married men having affairs, often with younger women in unfamiliar settings. According to several studies, those circumstances can add to stress that may increase the risks.
  • Resumption of sexual activity after a heart attack: If a patient can walk up a few flights of stairs without experiencing angina (chest pain), sexual relations may be resumed as early as one week after suffering a relatively mild heart attack.
  • Erectile dysfunction medication: Erectile dysfunction drugs such as Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis are generally safe for men with stable heart disease.

According to Dr. Levine and his team, the risk of having a heart attack during sexual activity is two to three times higher than when not having sexual activity. However, this increased heart attack risk during sexual activity represents only a very small portion of one’s overall risk of suffering another heart attack. The AHA report notes that sexual activity is the cause of less than 1% of all heart attacks.

According to the AHA report, among heart attack survivors, the average risk for another heart attack or sudden death is about 10 in 1 million per hour of sexual activity; having sex increases that risk to about 20 to 30 in 1 million per hour. Individuals without a history of heart disease have a lower overall risk for a heart attack; however, they face a similar risk for a sex-related attack.

Reference: Circulation