Don’t Ignore Sexual Issues

Cardiovascular disease patients should monitor sexual functioning

(RxWiki News) Cardiac patients can experience sexual dysfunction. But if patients don't tell their doctor about it, they may have trouble getting their sex life back on track.

Cardiac patient sexual dysfunction may be due to cardiac issues themselves or fear that having sex may cause a heart attack. Cardiac patients are at an increased risk of depression, which can further complicate relationships as well as their sex lives. 

It may be embarrassing to discuss sex with a doctor. However, not discussing it may mean not getting treatment, which can affect quality of life. 

A recent study found that sexual dysfunction and inactivity were common among cardiac patients, but these issues were rarely discussed with doctors.

"Talk to a doctor about your sexual health."

Molly Byrne, PhD, of the School of Psychology at National University of Ireland, and colleagues set out to study cardiac patients' experiences with sexuality and related treatment. 

The study included 382 cardiac patients that were recruited from six different cardiac rehabilitation centers. Over 75 percent of patients were male and the average age was 64. Researchers conducted telephone interviews and asked patients about their experiences with sexual functioning.

Researchers found that 47 percent of cardiac patients reported that they had not had sex in the past year. Almost half of those who had sex reported at least one sexual issue. 

The study also showed that 23 percent of the patients felt that their sex lives worsened after their cardiac health issues started. 

Erectile dysfunction (ED) was reported by 33 percent of the male patients. Patients with ED also reported higher anxiety levels and depressive symptoms compared to patients without ED. 

Over half of the patients (63 percent) reported that the subject of sexual health was never addressed by their healthcare professionals. The patients were dissatisfied that concerns about their sex lives were never discussed. 

"Addressing these issues early in cardiac rehabilitation, and reassuring patients when it is safe to return to sexual activity, may prevent sexual problems arising and reduce levels of sexual inactivity among this population," authors said in the study. 

There were some limitations to the study. Researchers did not collect information on why the patient was in the cardiac rehabilitation center. Only large rehabilitation centers were used and results may not be the same for patients at smaller centers. The researchers also had a low response rate for patients willing to complete the survey. As such, the results may have overestimated sexual health issues. Additionally, information about patients' medications was unreliable, making it difficult to measure the effect of medication on sexual functioning.

This study, titled "The CHARMS Study: cardiac patients' experiences of sexual problems following cardiac rehabilitation," was published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing. It was funded by the Health Research Board of Ireland. Dr. Byrne and colleagues disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
February 19, 2013