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From the Heart Docs: Sex is Safe after Heart Attack

by Dr. Barb DePree

It’s official. The American Heart Association (AHA) has just released its most comprehensive guidelines ever regarding sex for patients with heart disease.

The bottom line: Sex is safe after a heart attack. In fact, it’s good for you to get back into the swing of things as quickly as possible.

So, if you’ve been waiting… and waiting… to have sex after your partner’s heart attack. If you’ve been haunted by images of your partner dying in the middle of “doing it.” Or, if you’ve stopped having sex altogether, you might want to dig out that sexy negligee at the back of your drawer.

In its latest recommendations, the AHA makes official what the unofficial guidelines have been for years: Sex won’t cause a heart attack. It’s simply a mild exercise that’s a lot more fun than a treadmill. If your partner can carry a 20-pound bag of groceries from the car to the house or climb a flight of stairs without becoming short of breath, then you should schedule a make-out session.

(He or she should probably pass the stress tests at the rehab center or get a doctor’s approval, but then resuming a normal life, including sex, is the goal.)

If you, as the healthy partner, are terrified of hurting your mate, rest assured that the chances are miniscule. In the normal course of daily life, your partner’s risk of having a second heart attack is 10 in 1 million per hour. During sex, that rises to 20 to 30 in 1 million per hour.

And just so you know, the AHA report also noted that those most at risk for a heart attack during sex are married men who are having an affair in an unfamiliar place, usually with a younger woman.

Don’t fit that profile? Then you have nothing to worry about.

The only red flag in the new recommendations is that a man who is taking nitroglycerin shouldn’t use medication for erectile dysfunction (such as Viagra). This can cause dangerously low blood pressure. Also, if your partner’s condition isn’t stable, if he or she is experiencing chest pains, shortness of breath, dizziness, or other symptoms, then even mild exercise, such as sex, should be avoided, and you should contact your doctor.

Basically, as one doctor said, “What’s good for the heart is good for the penis.” This includes moderate exercise, not smoking, maintaining a good weight. And sex. That’s good stuff for all of us.

Often, other issues that have nothing to do sex might nonetheless put a damper on bedroom frolics. Depression, for example, is common following a heart attack. Depression can persist for several months, but usually resolves itself without intervention. Medication (including some medications for depression) can cause loss of libido. And beta-blockers for hypertension can interfere with maintaining an erection. So if your partner is experiencing these symptoms, his or her doctor might be able to adjust the medications.

The AHA released its report to encourage doctors to talk to their patients about sex, because it’s an important quality-of-life issue. Also because, in the absence of specific guidance from their doctors, people are confused and afraid, and they tend to avoid sex. So, if your doctor doesn’t bring up the issue of sex, you should.

Recovery is difficult enough without giving up important pleasures like sex, and it’s that reconnection with normal life that helps to speed recovery


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