A New Spin on Safe Sex

Study looks at patients' sex lives following acute heart attack

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A recent study from the University of Chicago found that sexual activity declines in the year following heart attack for patients who don't get instructions from their doctors regarding when it's safe to have sex again.

A total of 1,184 male and 576 female acute heart attack patients were enrolled in the study, a part of TRIUMPH (Translational Research Investigating Underlying Disparities in Recovery from Acute Myocardial Infarction: Patients' Health Status). Participants were asked questions about their sex lives before and after their heart attacks. Almost half the men and about a third of women said they received discharge instructions about when and how to safely resume sexual activity, but even fewer of these talked with their physicians about sex during the year following their heart attack.

Men and women were 1.3 times and 1.4 times (respectively) more likely to report a loss of sexual activity after one year if they didn't receive information about when to resume sex, according to the study.

Most heart attack patients have sex, said Stacy Tessler Lindau, M.D., lead author of the study and associate professor of obstetrics/gynecology and medicine-geriatrics at the University of Chicago, but doctors aren't discussing this matter with patients after a heart attack.

Male participants (average age 59 years) were more likely to be married and to be sexually active prior to the heart attack compared to female participants (average age 61 years).

Generally it is safe for heart attack patients to resume sex once they feel better and are capable of performing moderate exercise, though current guidelines stipulate patients should wait at least three to four weeks after heart attack to have sex.

But what about sex causing heart attacks, as is often portrayed in films and on television series?

Sex can definitely spur a heart attack, but the odds are low, said Lindau. She said the likelihood of dying during sexual intercourse is minimal, even among people who have had a heart attack.

Sexual activity contributes to less than 1 percent of heart attacks, according to a 1996 study by Harvard Medical School researchers.

Landau said doctors need to broach the topic of sex after heart attack with patients, even if it's not on a discharge list. She said further study is warranted to determine what specific kinds of information patients are given by their physicians, what exactly patients need to know and how to tailor information so patients will feel comfortable asking questions.

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Review Date: 
January 7, 2011
Last Updated:
January 7, 2011