Following cardiac arrest, your doctor may prescribe a blood thinner like injectable Lovenox to decrease blood clots. But he may neglect another aftercare step. Returning to normal life activities includes physical intimacy, notes Cardiologist Nieca Goldberg, M.D. Yet a study found that in over 80 percent of cases, doctors didn’t discredit the idea that sex can trigger a repeat heart attack. Experts explain why sex guidance is important soon after a cardiac event and provide the advice you should receive.
Doctors Skip Necessary Counselling
Your recovery process as a heart attack survivor involves acquiring information and reassurance so you can progress into a well-rounded, active, and healthier future. For many people, that goal includes sexual activity. But new research reports that even few young patients receive counseling about when and how to resume sex safely following cardiac arrest.
This study’s 3,500 patients from America and Spain included 2,349 women and 1,152 men between 18 and 55 years old. One month following their heart attacks, they described their experiences. Less than 20 percent of physicians discussed resuming sexual activity with these patients. Just 12 percent of females and 19 percent of males received sex counseling.
Subjects reported having active sex lives that they valued before their heart attacks, says study author Dr. Rupa Mehta Sanghani, M.D. Intimacy was important to their quality of life. So they were open to discussing the subject, but most physicians never broached that topic. Patients initiated most rare conversations. Study author Dr. Stacy Tessler Lindau, M.D., says heart attack victims shouldn’t have to be courageous enough to request this information (see video below). But when patients become advocates, physicians will follow their lead.
The few doctors who offered counseling told patients to limit their amounts of sex, assume more passive roles, or maintain low heart rates. But these unfounded restrictions didn’t come from medical guidelines, and no scientific evidence supports them. Doctors may think they’re being protective, but Tessler Lindau says these cautions can scare patients. She cited her previous findings that subjects who had sex after cardiac arrest were less liable to die within a year than those who abstained. This study disproved the myth about sex causing another heart attack that’s fatal.
When primary care doctors and cardiologists instruct patients on restarting physical activities after heart attacks, the researchers say they should include current recommendations for sexual activity. This should apply to both genders and all ages. The American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association’s guidelines indicate that resuming sex at least one week after most heart episodes is fine. In Goldberg’s experience, another week or so works best for most people. Patients need time to heal, especially for procedures involving the groin, which can cause pain.
Stress, anxiety, and depression after heart surgery may prevent patients from returning to sex. But getting back to previous routines is important for their mental health. A study found that restricting sex needlessly can create anxiety and depression in cardiac rehab patients. If you feel well a week after your incident, Mehta Sanghani says you can do low- or medium-intensity daily exercises like climbing stairs. When you can handle that, resuming previous activities including sex is fine.
Initiating the Talk
Asking your doctor about your fitness for sex can be awkward or embarrassing. Goldberg offers tips so you’ll get all the information that you seek. Take a pre-written list of questions and concerns to your appointment. She also suggests having your partner join your consultation because the answers affect both of you. Your doctor can assuage your partner’s fear of hurting you during sex and instill the confidence the two of you need.
One Patient’s Experience
After stent surgery corrected 56-year-old Dave Woods’ four major heart blockages, no one approached him or his wife about resuming their normal sex life. This former active runner was afraid of climbing stairs, so sex was frightening. His wife had concerns about him overexerting himself at anything. Weeks later during cardiac rehab, the staff noticed he was nervous about pursuing any types of activities.
Typically, cardiac rehab includes exercise monitoring, nutrition counseling, and emotional support to encourage patient recovery. For Woods, they added cardiac therapy sessions, which included sex counselling. After that, rehab was beneficial both physically and mentally. Progressing slowly helped Woods regain his health. But getting over the fear that his heart could explode took time.
Eventually, Woods gained the self-assurance to jog on a treadmill, which stressed his body, and even speed up when his trainer encouraged him to step up his pace. As he and his wife grew more confident that he wouldn’t have a fatal heart attack, life returned to normal after a couple months.
Learn the Warning Signs
Knowing the symptoms that indicate heart strain during sex or other activities will help you stop to contact your doctor. Watch for these warning signs: