The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Health & Fitness

July 21, 2013

There are different factors to consider before resuming sexual activity after a heart attack

DEAR MAYO CLINIC: How long after a heart attack do I need to wait to resume sexual activity?

ANSWER: For men and women with cardiovascular disease -- no matter how young or old -- sexual activity is important to quality of life. But after a heart attack, it’s not uncommon to lose confidence in your heart’s ability to work properly under stress. In addition, your partner may worry that resuming sexual activity might harm you or cause physical pain, especially if you had open-chest surgery.

The good news is, it may be safe for you to resume sexual activity sooner than you think. But because each person’s situation after a heart attack is unique, be sure to talk with your doctor about your specific situation.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), which released a statement on sexual activity and heart disease, less than 1 percent of heart attacks occur during sexual activity. Men and women have similar increases in heart rate and blood pressure during sexual activity.

The greatest increases occur during the 10 to 15 seconds of orgasm and then there’s a rapid return to normal.

For young to middle-aged adults, the actual physical demand is comparable to climbing two flights of stairs or walking briskly. In older adults or those with cardiovascular disease, the degree of exertion may be greater.

The risk of heart attack during sexual activity is just as low in men who’ve had a heart attack as it is in men with no coronary artery disease.

When discussing follow-up care with your doctor, the AHA’s recommendations can help guide your decisions. Different factors may need to be considered, such as:

• Whether you’re able to pass a stress test

An exercise stress test evaluates how your heart performs during mild to moderate activity. If you experience no heart-stress signs or symptoms -- such as angina (chest pain), excessive breathlessness, abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia), or decreased blood pressure (hypotension) -- you pass the stress test. In that case, and in consultation with your doctor, it may be reasonable to resume sexual activity.

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