What to Do When Heart Disease Hurts Your Sex Life



If movies and soap operas are anything to go by, sex can be dangerous for people with heart conditions. While research shows that sex can indeed trigger heart attacks in some people, especially men, the odds of literally succumbing to passion are very low. Sexual activity is a contributing factor in less than 1% of heart attacks, according to a 1996 study by Harvard Medical School researchers.

Although heart attacks during sex are rare, no one wants to be among the unlucky few who die while getting lucky. So if you have cardiovascular disease (CVD), or even if it runs in your family, it’s important to ask your doctor what type of sexual activity is safe. If you’ve just had a heart attack, for instance, you should wait three to four weeks before having intercourse, according to current guidelines. And if you have heart failure, your doctor may recommend that you avoid lying on your back during sex, because fluid is more likely to pool in your lungs in that position.

The physical danger posed by sexual activity is probably the least of your problems, however. There are plenty of other ways for heart disease to curtail your sex life. Everything from incision pain following bypass surgery to the emotional stress of living with a heart condition can get in the way of intimacy.

Sexual activity and heart conditions can interact in complicated ways, which can be difficult to tease apart. To make matters worse, heart patients (and their partners) are often uncomfortable discussing their sex lives with their doctors—and vice versa.

“I’ve found that most doctors don’t have the time—or the personality—to talk about sex with their heart patients,” says Edward Chapunoff, MD, a cardiologist in private practice in Pompano Beach, Fla., and the author of Answering Your Questions About Heart Disease and Sex. “They are evasive about it. They won’t bring it up themselves and even if the patient brings it up, a doctor might be hesitant to discuss it.”

So what’s a heart patient to do? Prepare a list of intimacy questions in advance of your next checkup and don’t let your doctor’s squirming deter you. In the meantime, here are some answers to three not-so-frequently asked questions about sex and heart disease.

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