Don't worry - heart attack sufferers are not putting themselves at any elevated risk by engaging in sexual activity, a new study finds.
It was generally considered a bad idea to hop into the sack after suffering a heart attack, but recent research suggests that it may not be so dangerous after all. According to a report from Newsweek, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that a surprisingly high number of seniors reported having sex within 24 hours of having a heart attack.
The study debunks the myth that sexual activity could be the catalyst for recurring cardiac episodes. Just 0.7 percent of patients revealed that they engaged in sexual activity within an hour of suffering a heart attack, while 78 percent of respondents said that they had sex more than a day before their heart attack.
The study also found that roughly 15 percent of patients reported having no sexual activity in the 12 months leading up to their heart attack. More than 95 percent of respondents reported having sex once each month or less, and 74 percent reported sexual activity occurring once each week or less. More than half of survey respondents reported that they had sex one or more times each week.
The researchers followed up with the survey respondents 10 years after the initial study, and found that none of them reported heart attacks or strokes.
“When someone has intercourse and then has a heart attack after, it’s really traumatic and so everyone hears about it,” said Dr. Maryann McLaughlin, associate professor of cardiology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. It is typical for physicians to not address the issue, and patients often feel uncomfortable speaking about it with their doctors. This contributes to the misunderstanding about the risks sexual activity can pose to overall cardiovascular health.
There is, however, a body of research that examines the few people who actually suffer from “sudden coital death.” A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine has found that a man is much more likely to suffer a heart attack while having sex with a different partner as opposed to his wife or established life partner. One of the most famous cases was that of Nelson Rockefeller, an American vice president who died at age 70 as he cheated on his wife with a woman who was in her mid-twenties. McLaughlin said, “I can just guess that with a new partner it might cause increase in blood pressure or exertion level.”
A different paper published in the journal Circulation describes coital angina, or “angina d’amour.” It is a type of chest pain caused by restricted blood flow to the heart that often occurs during or directly following sexual activity. This condition represents just 5 percent of all angina episodes. Angina can signal coronary heart disease, but doesn’t necessarily always lead to a heart attack.
The real question to ask if you’re concerned about your heart’s health is how much physical exertion it can withstand, be it sexual in nature or not. The majority of heart attack sufferers are monitored by a cardiologist in regular checkups that include stress tests. A patient will walk on a treadmill as they are monitored, and physicians can tell if exertion is likely to be life threatening.
Patients can also monitor their own capacity to exert themselves physically, and are often the most reliable people to decide whether or not having sex is right for them. Heart attack patients that can scale flights of stairs are usually fit enough to engage in sexual activity. The real risk lies in patients to maintain sedentary lifestyles, or who suffer from underlying conditions like diabetes.
While sexual activity isn’t much different from any other physical exertion, the research suggests that it is still safe to engage in after you’ve suffered a heart attack.