THE American Author and public speaker Brene Brown once said: “Vulnerability is basically uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure”. There is no other time in life that we feel more vulnerable than when we are faced with illnesses.
After exposure to certain medical conditions, sufferers often experience the lasting alteration of path of life. On one hand, the illness may result in some physical or emotional disabilities to prevent business as usual; on the other hand the fear of the recurrence may also be constant.
The occurrence of a heart attack will surely strike fear in any one of us. The near-death experience often changes the lifestyle of many, after the narrow brush with fatality. Of course, modifications and adjustment of diet and exercise regimes will reduce the cardiac risk factors and have an overall positive impact in the future.
How much of the pre-heart attack life can one indulge in after the incident? To be more precise, how much of one's sex life can be deemed safe, without the risk of re-infarct? This will be a great opportunity to manage David’s expectation after his heart attack.
Dear Dr. G,
My name is David. I am 56 years old.
My wife and I had a wonderful and active sexual relationship since we were married 30 years ago. We have two amazing children and will become grandparents at the end of the year.
Unfortunately I had heart attack six months ago after Chinese New year.
I know I am lucky to have survived the heart attack, and I have also changed my life since this near death experience.
I now eat healthily and exercise regularly. I also take on less work and spend more time with relaxation.
As I am spending more time with my lovely wife, I am missing the intimacy that we used to have.
My wife thinks it is time to call it the day and forget about sexual activities. She fears I may have another heart attack and may even have a sudden death during sex.
I have asked my doctor about the matter. He also agrees that it may be too soon to start sexual relations again after the heart attack.
I feel very sad about this. Can you please tell me whether it is safe to have sex after heart attack? How soon is it safe for me to resume sexual activity again?
While the fears of a heart attack are common, the thought of their partner dying during sexual intercourse is even more traumatic for the couples. I am sure many of us would think of the mysterious circumstances surrounding Bruce Lee’s death all those years ago.
Of course, such embarrassing issues will be too difficult to mention even to the most trusted healthcare providers. A recent study carried out on 1900 heart attack patients highlighted that just one third of the women and less than half of the men received any instructions about resuming sexual activities after they left the hospital with heart attacks.
The same study also revealed 44% of the participants reported not having sexual contact one year post incidence and it has had a negative impact on their relationship and self-esteem.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recently published guidelines aiming at educating physicians on advising patients about sex after cardiovascular events. The guide also offers insights for patients.
In the guideline, it has been highlighted that sex is not as risky as most fear. The risk of sexual activities triggering another event in most people is small, unless the sufferer experience cardiac symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breathe on normal exertion. The consensus is, if you don't have such problems during exercise, you will most likely be fine in bed.
Of course, some may still feel apprehension about the safety of sex after the cardiac incidence. The best solution is to discuss the matter with the cardiologist, who may suggest treadmill stress tests to be certain.
Although most studies demonstrated good safety data of resuming sex as early as two weeks, I often advice couples to start gently. The AHA guidelines also recommend consideration of different positions that exerts less energy. I leave that to your imagination and creativity.
For men, achieving erectile rigidity after a long pause in intimacy may be an issue. This may be due to psychological anxiety, the side effects of the medications or even permanent erectile dysfunction due to neurovascular damage. The use of the blue pills is considered safe in most heart attack survivors. However, detailed assessment is advisable.
Brian Greene, the American theoretical physicist, who also appeared on the sitcom, The Big Bang Theory once said: “Exploring the unknown requires tolerating uncertainty” In the case of David, the uncertainty will remain uncertain if you continue to be fearful. Go on, see your doctor. His assurance may just highlight what you have been missing all this while.
> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.