Life is getting back to normal after your heart attack. But do you worry sexual activity may cause a relapse?
Life after a heart attack does not have to mean an end to romance.
More than half a million people in the United States survive a heart attack each year. Many of them are afraid to have sex because they fear it might cause another episode. But statistics suggest that very few heart attacks are actually triggered by sexual activity.
Further, if you’ve had a heart attack and have made positive lifestyle changes such as losing weight and improving your eating habits, then your risk will be even lower.
How will I know when I’m ready?
Has your doctor told you that you are ready to climb a long flight of stairs? Take a brisk 20-minute walk? Spend 15 or 20 minutes raking leaves? If you can do these activities or ones like it without having symptoms – such as breathlessness or chest pain – then you may be healthy enough to have sex. Check with your doctor first. He may want to have you do exercise testing to determine what level of physical activity you’re ready for.
Your ability to resume a safe and full sex life will depend on many things, including your general health and how severe your heart attack was. Roughly 20 percent to 30 percent of heart attack survivors need more testing and treatment before they can engage in intercourse. As always, check with your doctor for a time frame that is right for you.
Most people can resume their same frequency and intensity of sexual activity after they recover from a heart attack. First, let your doctor give you the OK. Then start out slowly and work your way back into your normal patterns.
If you do have chest pains (angina) or feel out of breath during sex, stop the activity and talk with your doctor. He or she might suggest a change in your treatment plan.
Note: If you take nitroglycerine for chest pain, you cannot use certain erectile dysfunction medications, such as Viagra or Cialis. Used together, they can cause a potential life-threatening drop in blood pressure.
One more reason to exercise
Research shows that regular exercise lowers the risk of having a heart attack after sexual activity. It can also help you feel more energetic and more in control of your health, and can lower your weight and blood pressure.
A healthy sex life may also help to offset depression that often follows a heart attack. It does this by promoting intimacy and a sense of connection. Enjoying intimacy with your partner – whether or not actual intercourse takes place – often can improve your outlook.
Your doctor may suggest a cardiac rehab program to rebuild your strength and exercise tolerance. If not, check to see what activity level is safe for you.
After a heart attack, it’s normal to have some sexual difficulties, especially early in the recovery process. This may be due to the following:
- Depression, which can significantly lower libido
- Anxiety, either yours or your partner’s, that sex will lead to another heart attack
- Certain heart medications or antidepressants, which can reduce sex drive
Adopting positive lifestyle habits is essential to a healthy sex drive:
- Don’t smoke. If you do, get help from your doctor to quit.
- Exercise regularly if it’s OK with your doctor.
- Eat a nutritious diet.
- Reach and maintain a healthy weight.
- Limit alcohol intake to one drink per day if you’re a woman and to two drinks per day if you’re a man.
Of course, an improved sex life is really just a bonus. More importantly, these changes can help prevent future heart attacks.