There are fewer matters closer to the heart than sex. Sexual intimacy is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. But what happens after you’ve suffered a heart attack? Can you still safely enjoy sex, or is your sex life, as you know it, completely over? For some, these may be hard questions to ask your doctor (although we highly recommend it!) Don’t worry though, we’ve got you covered.
Of all the beautiful things in life that fill our hearts, from enjoying a delicious meal to spending time with those we love, sex is one of those human experiences that make us feel alive. Sexual intimacy with a loving partner strengthens both the emotional heart, as well as the physical heart. A strong sex life is truly a gift.
Sex contributes to many health benefits, including a more robust immune system, decreased pain, lowered stress levels, and improved sleep.
Did you know that you can get an actual broken heart due to a highly stressful or sad experience in your life? Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or “broken heart syndrome,” occurs when the heart muscle becomes weakened, often resulting from a traumatic event. The symptoms mimic a heart attack but can not be attributed to underlying cardiac disease. Documented cases have occurred after the sudden loss of a loved one or upon hearing difficult news.
If the heart can literally “break” from sadness or stress, it’s safe to assume that it can heal with love or a sense of peace. Sex is associated with the release of oxytocin, a “love hormone” linked to bonding. Oxytocin has significant health benefits for the heart and can contribute to decreased blood pressure. One study demonstrated a substantial decrease in inflammation and free radicals in the presence of oxytocin.
After a heart attack, it’s important to increase physical activity slowly. Sex is a great way to squeeze in a little more exercise that is perhaps less strenuous on the heart than your traditional gym session. Studies show that sex burns approximately four calories a minute. A 25-minute bedroom session can easily take 100 calories off your plate.
There is even some evidence that sex might help heart attack patients live longer. A recent study followed heart attack survivors for 22 years and found that those who have sex more than once a week were 27 percent less likely to die than those who abstained from sex. While increased sex might contribute to longevity, the study did conclude that physical activity and age also contributed to sex frequency.
Now that we’ve established the health benefits of sex, the question remains, is it safe to have sex after a heart attack?
Everyone recovers from a heart attack at different paces. Therefore, it’s essential to talk to your doctor before resuming any physical activity. However, it is generally considered safe, and some would even say it’s recommended, to resume sex after a heart attack.
The American Heart Association released a statement on sexual activity and heart disease. It concluded that having sex is safe for people who can exercise with no heart problems at a moderate pace of 3 to 5 metabolic equivalents (METs). Most physicians agree that if you can walk a few city blocks at an average pace, you are safe to have sex.
Even with reassurance, heart attack survivors still worry about their heart during sex. However, research shows that very few individuals suffer from heart events during sex. One study followed 536 heart disease patients over the course of 10 years. Less than 1 percent of the patients who suffered a heart attack had sexual relations within an hour of their cardiac event.
After a heart attack, most individuals successfully resume a normal sex life. However, it’s helpful to be aware that some sexual challenges can arise. A 2016 study found that nearly a third of men and 42 percent of women developed sexual difficulties in the year following a heart attack. Some of those difficulties include depression, anxiety, lack of interest, and erectile dysfunction.
Have great sex after a heart attack
Knowledge is power, and being aware that sexual difficulties may exist after a heart attack allows individuals to be proactive in warding them off. The following are some ways to ensure the best success when resuming a great sex life.
- Start slow – Rewind to the early days of your sexual life, when foreplay was just as exciting as sexual intercourse. Explore intimacy in ways that won’t stress your heart, resuming sex gradually and as you feel comfortable.
- Communicate – It’s completely normal to have anxiety around your activity level following a heart attack. It’s also relatively common to experience new sexual challenges. Communicate those concerns with your partner, as well as with your healthcare provider.
- Get creative – There may be sexual activities that you once enjoyed that no longer feel comfortable. Now is the perfect opportunity to explore and try new positions that may work better for you.
- Be aware of your body – Just as you would with any exercise, carefully listen to the signals that may be coming from your body. If you experience dizziness, shortness of breath, pain, or heart palpitations, you should immediately stop your activity.
What is life worth living if you can’t enjoy the parts of life that are so enjoyable? Unfortunately, being comfortable having sex again after a heart attack may take time. However, you should rest assured knowing that achieving a healthy and vibrant sex life is not only possible after a heart attack but could help you ward off future health difficulties.
-The NHD Team
Dr. Lauren Lattanza 11/5/21