Sex After a Heart Attack: 7 Things Cardiologists Want You to Know
Heart attack survivors may be hesitant to hop in the sack. Here’s what doctors say you should—and shouldn’t—be worried about.
Let your food digest
Dinner and romance may sound like a sweet combination, but Michael Miller, MD, cardiologist and the author of Heal Your Heart, has some words of warning. “Patients resuming sexual activity after a heart attack, stent placement, or open-heart surgery should wait at least several hours after a big meal such as dinner,” he says. Holding off allows your body to properly digest foods, which in turn can help reduce possible stress on your heart. A wait time of one to three hours is optimal, according to WebMD. But don’t skip dinner just to get busy. Here are 7 silent signs of a heart attack you should know.
Don’t mix meds
Obviously, you want to know which medications you’re taking and how they could interact. It’s especially important when it comes to sex after a heart attack. For example, Dr. Miller notes that if you or your partner have been taking erectile dysfunction meds such as Viagra, Cialis, or Levitra, you should not have taken a nitroglycerin medication such as Imdur or sublingual glyceryl trinitrate (GTN) for at least 72 hours. Nitroglycerin extended-release capsules are designed to help relieve chest pain for people with coronary artery disease, making it easier for blood to flow to the heart, according to WebMD. However, there can be some serious side effects from overlapping an ED medication with your nitroglycerin drugs. Know your meds and reach out to your doctor if you have any questions.
Know when you’re in the clear…
How soon you resume sexual activity after a heart incident varies depending on your type of heart problem and any procedures you had to treat it. If you had a heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction (MI), the standard recommendation is to wait one week. “Because participation of stable patients in cardiac rehabilitation exercise programs one week after MI has proved safe, resumption of sexual activity soon after uncomplicated MI seems reasonable in the stable patient who is asymptomatic with mild to moderate physical activity,” according to an American Heart Association scientific statement published in the journal Circulation. Dr. Miller agrees that the one week delay in this case is fine after an uncomplicated heart attack—as long as the patient can engage in mild to moderate physical activity, including walking on a flat treadmill at 3 to 5 mph or walking up two flights of stairs without stopping. And you should be able to do these things without experiencing chest or neck discomfort, fatigue, or shortness of breath, Dr. Miller adds. Don’t miss these things to know about heart attacks before you have one.
…If you had a stent placed
If you’ve had a stent placed, you can resume intercourse according to guidelines similar to after a heart attack: A one-week waiting time is fine, Dr. Miller says, so long as the access site (which is typically the groin) is free of complications. Again, you want to be sure you can walk at a brisk pace or climb two sets of stairs without issue, meaning not having shortness of breath, fatigue, or chest or neck discomfort. These are the heart-health secrets cardiologists won’t tell you.
…If you had coronary bypass surgery
Coronary bypass surgery, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a “surgical procedure that diverts the flow of blood around a section of a blocked or partially blocked artery in your heart.” To improve blood flow to your heart, surgeons take a healthy blood vessel from your arm, leg, or chest, and connect it to healthy heart arteries. If you’ve had this more serious procedure, you’ll need to give your body additional time to recover. “The recommendation is to wait until there is sufficient healing of the chest region, which is generally six to eight weeks following uncomplicated surgery,” Dr. Miller says.
Sex may not be the same
If your male partner suffered a heart attack, he may go on to experience challenges in the bedroom. According to Prevention, University of Chicago research found that 31 percent of men 55 and younger who had no sexual problems prior to their heart attacks ended up with at least one new sexual challenge the following year. Among them were erectile dysfunction (about 25 percent), disinterest in sex (19 percent), and performance anxiety (16 percent). And it’s completely normal, as people who have had major health setbacks often become worried or saddened, and these thoughts can interfere with healthy sex, both physically and mentally. This is exactly what to do if you’re having a heart attack.
Bust the myth that sex causes heart attacks
Assuming you don’t have any serious complications, there’s no need to worry about getting a second heart attack during sex. A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology points out that the risk of having another heart attack while engaging in moments of passion is hardly worth your concern. Study author James E. Muller, MD, says that “the absolute risk of sexually triggered MI remains extremely low,” and that “sexual activity carries little risk of causing a cardiac event.” Next, don’t miss these signs that you’re headed for a heart attack.