1. Health
Cory Silverberg

Calling for Better Care: New Recommendations for Sex and Heart Health

By January 24, 2012

Follow me on:

In the past, if you had a stroke, a heart attack, or a more minor event that led to a diagnosis of cardiovascular disease and you asked your doctor about your options for having sex, the response wouldn't be very encouraging. Something along the lines of it being better safe than sorry, so why not wait. How long you had to wait, and exactly what you had to wait to do was never clear. But there wasn't much research to guide doctors, and in a society where sex is seen more as a perk and privilege of youth, the prudent advice was to be grateful you're alive, and not push it.

Over the past few decades that advice has changing, thanks in large part to two different but connected research agendas. On the one hand we now have a reasonable amount of data suggesting that sexual activity represents a minor risk to people with stable cardiovascular disease. On the other we have research that points to the many physical, emotional, and psychological benefits of regularly engaging in sexual activity. So doctors not only have some concrete answers about risk, but they also have very good reasons to encourage people to resume sexual activity.

Last week the American Heart Association released a scientific statement (available for free download here) which summarizes the most recent research and advises physicians on the importance of talking with patients about sexuality and supporting their overall health by supporting their sexual health. Here are a few highlights from the statement, and some of the things I most appreciated them including:

Risk of Pain, Heart Attack, and Death Is Very Low
Using a term that is sure to appear on some hipster Valentine's Day cards this year, the authors point out that experiencing coital angina (in other words pain caused by a heart problem during coitus) happens in about 5% of all reported cases of angina. In other words, if you're going to feel pain it's more likely that you'll notice it first while exercises, shoveling snow, or doing any number of other activities before you'll feel it during sex.

Looking at reports of heart attacks, less than 1% were caused by sexual activity. For people who have heart disease and are having regular sex the risk goes down even further.

Sudden death during sex is incredibly rare. Reviewing three studies of autopsy reports where the death was related to a cardiovascular event, around 1% of the deaths were reported to have occurred during intercourse. For whatever it's worth in 75% of those cases, the reported intercourse was of the "extramarital" kind (whatever that means), and was with a younger partner, immediately following "excessive food and alcohol consumption". This is taken from medical reports of course, so there are probably major details being left out. Nonetheless, take out the drinking and the Oysters Rockefeller, and better yet, be honest with your partner about your sexual desires, and your chances of dying should bo way down.

Narrow Focus of Previous Research
It was nice to see the authors highlight how most of the research we have is based on heterosexual men engaging in penile-vaginal intercourse. These men aren't the only ones who get heart disease, and there's more to sex than intercourse.

Counseling Is Needed
The statement advocates for physicians to begin counseling their patients on the general low risk of sexual activity, as well as specific information they need regarding birth control, pregnancy, the use of erectile dysfunction drugs, and more. The authors highlight depression and anxiety as two common experiences that are related to cardiovascular disease which can on the one hand make engaging in sexual activity more challenging, and on the other are experiences that can be to some extent alleviated by pleasurable sexual activity.

More About Sex and Heart Health From About.com:

| Twitter | Newsletter Signup | Sexuality Forum |

Comments
January 25, 2012 at 1:03 pm
(1) Renee says:

I would like to try and explain better the intercourse of the “extramarital” kind. I attended a conference given by a cardiologist who was talking about how many METs are expended with different types of exercise. When it came to sexual activity, the speaker mentioned that a lot more METs were used when having sex with your mistress than with your regular partner. I guess routine has not set in yet and that you are still trying to impress this new partner!

Hope that helps

Dr. Renee

January 25, 2012 at 1:47 pm
(2) Cory says:

Hi Renee,

Thanks, I generally understood what they meant, but I think we always need to be aware that life is more complicated than it appears on intake or assessment forms. Extramarital might not always include a deception or “cheating”. But when it gets noted in a file, is that what it really means?

I think there’s an idea that sex with someone new or sex that is rule-breaking or forbidden will always be more exciting (and presumably more physically stressful). My experience as a sex educator suggests otherwise. I’m aware of people who have much more intense (physically, emotionally, psychologically) sexual interactions with long term partners, and others who have affairs which they find a bore (but engage in for a variety of other reasons).

So that’s what I was getting at. I appreciate you sharing what you learned at that conference though and am glad that folks are parsing these things out.

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>
Top Related Searches
  • heart health
  • january 24
    1. About.com
    2. Health
    3. Sexuality

    ©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.