Few matters resonate more deeply within our hearts than the intimate bond of sex. The profound connection of sexual intimacy is an indispensable component of a wholesome, fulfilling lifestyle.
But what transpires after surviving a heart attack? Can the joy of sexual activity continue, or must your love life be abruptly stopped? While these may be difficult questions to broach with your healthcare provider -although we wholeheartedly encourage you to do so – we’ve got your answers!
Sexuality and Health
From savoring a mouth-watering meal to cherishing quality time with loved ones, sex is one of those quintessential human experiences that makes us feel fully alive. The unique bond of sexual intimacy invigorates the emotional heart and positively impacts physical health. Hence, a robust sex life is truly a priceless gift.
Savoring the delights of sexual intimacy isn’t just about pleasure—it’s also a balm for your well-being. Sex revs up the immune system, eases discomfort, and reduces stress. Moreover, when the day is done, it ushers you into the world of restful sleep. Truly, the joys of sex are like a gift that never stops giving, offering layer upon layer of health benefits.
The Benefits of Sex for the Heart
Did you know that an intense emotional trauma can cause an actual ‘broken heart’? Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, colloquially known as the “broken heart syndrome,” is a condition in which the heart muscle weakens due to severe emotional distress. The symptoms can mimic a heart attack but are unrelated to any existing heart disease. Instances of this have been documented following traumatic events like the unexpected loss of a loved one or receiving devastating news.
Given this, it’s plausible to suggest that just as our hearts can “break” from intense sorrow or stress, they may also heal with love, compassion, and a sense of tranquility. Sex is intrinsically linked with the release of oxytocin, the “love hormone,” fostering emotional bonding. This hormone has numerous heart-related health benefits, notably contributing to decreased blood pressure. One study even demonstrated a significant reduction in inflammation and free radicals in response to oxytocin.
Moreover, sex makes people happy. Endorphins released during intercourse reduce anxiety and depression, two factors that increase the risk of heart disease.
Post-heart attack, the gradual resumption of physical activity is crucial. Sex is a fantastic way to incorporate a bit more exercise into your routine, which is likely less strenuous on the heart than a traditional gym workout. Studies show that sexual activity burns approximately four calories a minute. Hence, a passionate 25-minute lovemaking session can help you shed an easy 100 calories.
Interestingly, evidence suggests that regular sex could potentially extend the lives of heart attack survivors. For example, a recent study tracked heart attack survivors over a period of 22 years, finding that those who engaged in sex more than once a week were nearly a third less likely to die compared to those who abstained.
Is It Safe to Have Sex after a Heart Attack?
Having appreciated the profound health benefits of sexual activity, the vital question arises: Is sex safe after experiencing a heart attack?
Recovery timelines post-heart attack vary greatly among individuals. Therefore, it’s important to discuss with your doctor before resuming any form of physical activity. However, most medical professionals are in agreement that it’s safe- and even beneficial- to resume sexual activity following a heart attack.
The American Heart Association (AHA) has issued a statement on sexual activity and heart disease, concluding that sexual activity is generally safe for those capable of moderate exercise, around 3 to 5 metabolic equivalents (METs). In simpler terms, if you can comfortably walk a few city blocks at a moderate pace, you’re probably safe to resume sexual activity.
Despite such reassurances, it’s natural for heart attack survivors to worry about cardiac health during sexual activity. But the actual risks are quite low. In a study tracking 536 heart disease patients over a decade, less than 1 percent had engaged in sexual activity within an hour of their cardiac event.
So how long should you wait after a heart attack before resuming sex? A 2020 study found that maintaining or increasing the frequency of sexual activity within the first months after MI was associated with better survival. Similarly, a 2012 study found a somewhat decreased mortality rate among sexually active individuals compared to inactive individuals.
Sexual Changes After a Heart Attack
After a heart attack, most individuals successfully regain a fulfilling sex life. However, it’s important to know that it’s perfectly normal if sexual challenges arise.
According to a 2016 study, nearly a third of men and 42 percent of women reported sexual difficulties in the year following a heart attack. Navigating the new reality of sexual intimacy following a heart attack can be complex. In the wake of such a significant health event, sexual changes are common and multifactorial. Factors that might lead to sexual changes post-heart attack include:
- Fear and Anxiety: After a heart attack, changes in sexual behavior often stem from fear, such as the dread of causing another cardiac event. Despite the extremely low risk, this anxiety can still impact sexual performance and desire.
- Depression: Studies reveal a troubling truth: depression is three times more prevalent following a heart attack. Regrettably, this mental health challenge can cast a shadow over sexual desire and function, making intimacy more complicated.
- Medication Side Effects: Post-heart attack, patients typically exit the hospital with a new lineup of medications, many of which can throw a wrench into the machinery of sexual function. Commonly prescribed beta-blockers often prompt erectile dysfunction in men and dampen libido in both men and women. Diuretics, another staple in post-heart attack care, reduce blood flow and can also trigger erectile dysfunction.
- Physical Limitations: The heart attack might cause physical limitations that make certain sexual positions uncomfortable or impractical. This can cause frustration and dissatisfaction with sexual experiences.
- Low Energy Levels: Recovering from a heart attack often leaves individuals feeling fatigued and with lower energy levels than usual, which can reduce sexual desire and activity.
- Hormonal Changes: The aftermath of a heart attack can disrupt hormone balance, causing a dip in sex hormones like testosterone in men and estrogen in women. This hormonal shift can influence both sexual function and desire.
Five Strategies for a Safe and Vibrant Sex Life Post-Heart Attack
Forewarned is forearmed. By being aware that sexual difficulties may occur after a heart attack, individuals can proactively manage them. Here are five tips for ensuring a satisfying sex life post-heart attack:
- Start Slow: Rediscover the thrills of your early sexual days, when foreplay was just as exciting as the main event. Embrace intimacy in ways that don’t strain your heart, resuming sexual activity as you feel comfortable.
- Communicate: Anxiety surrounding post-heart attack activity levels and new sexual challenges is perfectly normal. Talk about your concerns with your partner and healthcare provider. Open communication is key.
- Get Creative: Some sexual activities you previously enjoyed might no longer be comfortable. Now is the perfect time to explore new positions that might be more suitable.
- Listen to Your Body: Stay tuned in to your body’s signals. If you’re engaging in sexual activity and you start to feel dizzy, have trouble breathing, experience pain, or notice your heart skipping beats, it’s time to pause.
- Lower Inflammation: Heart attacks are caused by excess inflammation in the body. Consider lifestyle adjustments to reduce inflammation, which will naturally improve sexual wellness. Regular sunlight exposure, an organic diet high in omega-3s, managing stress levels, and ensuring quality sleep can all contribute to better sexual health.
Although the topic of sexual activity may feel taboo, it’s an inseparable part of our human existence and health. Post-heart attack, talking openly with your healthcare provider about any sexual health concerns becomes vital. These conversations are crucial not only for your recovery but also for your future well-being.
To assist you in this journey, we recommend scheduling a 20-minute complimentary consultation with an NHD health coach. Our experienced coaches are here to provide guidance, reassurance, and compassion as you navigate the path back to a fulfilling and safe sex life. Your heart has endured a lot, but it’s still capable of embracing love and life after a heart attack.