Heart Attack? Did You Talk to Your Doctor About Sex?

Sex after heart attack was not always discussed by doctors and patients

(RxWiki News) After a heart attack, patients are usually ready to get back to their lives — and that includes their sex lives. Most patients, however, do not talk to their doctors about whether it is safe to do so.

A new study found that, after a heart attack, patients did not often speak with their doctors about whether they could safely have sex.

Those who did talk to their doctors were often told to limit sexual activity, to take a passive role or to keep their heart rate down. The American Heart Association, however, does not make these recommendations, the authors of this study found.

"After a heart attack, many patients are worried about resuming any type of physical activities, and sex is definitely one of the activities they're worried about," said Jeffrey M. Schussler, MD, an interventional cardiologist at Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital and Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, in an interview with dailyRx News.

"Physicians could do a better job actively discussing this facet of a [heart attack] patient's recovery, in addition to the discussions we already have about returning to work and cardiac rehab," Dr. Schussler, who was not involved in this study, said. "Although there's less data to support recommendations, most patients who are able to do normal exercise after a [heart attack] are safe to resume sexual activities."

Lead study author Stacey T. Lindau, MD, of the University of Chicago, echoed Dr. Schussler's comments.

“Healthcare providers should let their patients know that for most it is OK to resume physical activity, including sexual activity, and to return to work,” Dr. Lindau said in a press release. “They can tell their patients to stop the activity and notify them if they experience chest pain, shortness of breath or other concerning symptoms.”

Dr. Lindau conducted this study with colleagues in the US and Spain.

Few past studies have looked at whether patients get a chance to talk to their doctors about sex after a heart attack. That's why Dr. Lindau and colleagues decided to study this topic among younger people who had heart attacks.

Those in the study were 18 to 55 years old. Nearly 1 in 5 heart attacks happen to people in this age group, these researchers said.

Guidelines issued by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association suggest that patients can have sex in as little as a week after an uncomplicated heart attack — as long as they don't experience any troubling heart symptoms like chest pain during mild to moderate exercise. An uncomplicated heart attack results in minimal damage to the heart.

In this study, which included 2,349 women and 1,152 men who had a heart attack, 12 percent of the women and 19 percent of men discussed sex to some extent with their doctors after their heart attack.

The study patients were interviewed in the hospital about whether they had discussed sex with their doctors. They were all asked similar questions by phone a month later.

Regardless of whether they were told it was safe to resume sexual activity, 54 percent of women and 62 percent of men had resumed sex a month after their heart attack, Dr. Lindau and team found.

These researchers did not explore why doctors and patients didn’t talk about sex after heart attacks, but Dr. Lindau said she thinks patients should bring up the topic if their doctors don’t.

“If the healthcare provider doesn’t raise the issues, I encourage patients to ask outright: ‘Is it OK for me to resume sexual activity? When? Is there anything I should look out for?” Dr. Lindau said.

This study was published Dec. 15 in Circulation.

A variety of sources, such as the National Institute on Aging and the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares, funded this research. Dr. Lindau received National Institutes of Health grant support for this study. Several study authors received funding from pharmaceutical companies like Bayer, Eli-Lilly and Amgen.

Review Date: 
December 11, 2014