Is sex safe for heart disease patients?

  • Wellness
  • Thursday, 03 May 2018

Cardiovascular events such as heart attacks or chest pain caused by heart disease rarely occur during sexual activity, because sexual activity is usually for a short time. - AFP

Readjusting to everyday life can be tough for heart disease patients.

You’ve been treated for heart disease. You’ve followed your doctor’s orders. Now your doctor says you’re ready to get back to normal life. You wonder about everything: Should I eat this food? Can I do that activity? Can my body deal with the stress?

But have you asked: Is sex safe for heart disease patients?

Sex is really no harder on the body than climbing a few flights of stairs, or briskly walking four or five blocks. You’re more likely to have a heart attack while arguing with your mate than during sex.

Among the many questions is whether heart disease, also called cardiovascular disease, will affect your sex life or if it’s safe to have sex at all. According to a new scientific statement issued by the American Heart Association, it is probably safe to have sex if your cardiovascular disease has stabilised.

Sexual activity is a major quality-of-life issue for men and women with cardiovascular disease and their partners. Cardiovascular events such as heart attacks or chest pain caused by heart disease, rarely occur during sexual activity, because sexual activity is usually for a short time.

Some patients will postpone sexual activity when it is actually relatively safe for them to engage in it. On the other hand, there are some patients for whom it may be reasonable to defer sexual activity until they’re assessed and stabilised.

If you have unstable cardiovascular disease or if your symptoms are severe, you should be treated and stabilised before having sex. Don’t be shy about starting a conversation with your doctor about heart disease and your sex life.

Here’s what you need to know if you’ve been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. Ask your doctor to evaluate you before resuming sexual activity.

• Get a stress test – This is sometimes called a treadmill test. You’ll work out on a piece of equipment such as a treadmill or stationary bike, while your doctor measures how well your heart keeps up with your body.

There are several benefits to this: you’ll see firsthand what you can do, and you’ll feel more confident; if your spouse or partner goes along, they’ll see your progress and feel more at ease about your physical health and strength.

• If you’ve had heart failure or a heart attack, cardiac rehabilitation and regular physical activity can reduce the risk of complications related to sexual activity.

• If you’re a woman thinking about starting birth control or getting pregnant, be sure to talk to your doctor first.

• If you’re experiencing sexual dysfunction, check with your doctor to see if it could be related to cardiovascular disease, or to anxiety, depression or other factors.

• Don’t skip the medications that could improve cardiovascular symptoms because you’re concerned they could impact your sex drive or function. Your heart health should come first!

• Drugs to treat erectile dysfunction are generally safe, although they shouldn’t be used if you’re receiving nitrate therapy for chest pains due to coronary artery disease as the combo can be deadly. Nitrates also shouldn’t be administered within 24-48 hours of using an erectile dysfunction drug (depending on the drug used).

• If you’re a post-menopausal woman with cardiovascular disease, it’s generally safe to use oestrogen that’s topically or vaginally inserted for the treatment of painful intercourse.

Sex is an important part for many couples’ relationships. Following a heart attack, you or your partner may understandably have questions. I suspect embarrassment keeps many patients from asking, but it’s an important topic to address with your cardiologist.

Don’t be too shy to ask your cardiologist about this or related issues. You’re not the first to wonder if and when it’s safe to resume sex after heart problems.

Dr G.S. Sridhar is a consultant cardiologist and physician.

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