After a heart attack, women often worry about the safety of having sex again, and many wish their doctors would talk about the issue more. Up to 60% of women are less sexually active after a heart attack, according to a study released last year. It suggested that one cause for abstinence was the fear that sex would trigger a repeat heart attack.
Researchers examine a little deeper into the reasons why women abstain from sex after a heart attack. The authors interviewed 17 women (ages 43 to 75 years) about their post-heart attack sex lives. Though the women thought sex was important for resuming a sense of normalcy and intimacy with their partners, many were fearful that it would be too much for their hearts to take. One woman said that during sex her heart beat real fast and it scared her.
What is the real risk that sex will trigger a heart attack? For every 10,000 people who have sex once a week, only two to three will have an extra heart attack, according to a study. And though it happens in the movies, the chances of dying during sex in reality are even smaller.
Fit sufficient for sex
Because sex is a form of aerobic exercise, it’s best to have a certain amount of cardiac fitness to do it. How do you know when you’re physically ready? If you can exercise hard enough to work up a light sweat without triggering symptoms like chest pain or shortness of breath, it’s safe for you to have sex.
Before resuming your sex life after a heart attack, it’s a good idea to see your doctor for an exam and stress test. Going through a cardiac rehabilitation program can help get you physically fit enough for sex. A cardiac rehab program will also teach you how to improve your diet, and manage heart attack risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Getting to “okay”
Sex is important for so many reasons—including your relationship, self-esteem, and health. Even if you’re physically healthy enough to have sex, you might not want to, or it might not be as satisfying as it was in the past. Sexual problems are common in women with heart issues. Whether you want to know if you can start having sex again, or you’re no longer feeling sexual, start a conversation with a trusted doctor.
Part of the reason why women in study were afraid to start having sex again was that their doctors hadn’t given them the okay. Women in this study wanted their doctors to offer them guidance on when to restart sexual activity. But for most of them, that advice never came. It’s important for you and your partner to know you’re not alone in your confusion and fear about returning to sex after a heart attack. If your doctor isn’t giving you information to help you feel more comfortable about it, it’s important for you to ask them for it.