Dr. Nieca Goldberg, at Lennox Hill Hospital in New York, says “female patients worry about increased heart rate and sweating during sex after a heart attack, and have increased rates of depression.”
But if you’re not depressed, feeling frisky and counting the days before you can resume sex, how long must you wait?
Guidelines issued by The Princeton Consensus Panel suggest that sexual activity is too risky during the first two weeks after a heart attack, but that 70 per cent of patients are of low risk and can resume sexual activity within three to four weeks. The other 30 per cent may require further testing before being given the green light.
A study reported in "The Journal of the American Medical Association" followed 1,774 heart attack patients and it had better news. It found that there was only a 20 in 1,000,000 chance of having a second heart attack during sex, much better than the odds at Las Vegas. In fact, researchers claimed that anger was three times more likely than sexual activity to trigger a coronary death.
Another study at the University of Maryland found that even men suffering from chronic heart failure could safely engage in sex.
This more realistic view makes sense when you consider the amount of energy involved in sexual activity. A report published in the Johns Hopkins bulletin, “Health after 50”, says sexual intercourse requires the same amount of physical exertion as walking on a treadmill at three to four miles an hour or climbing two flights of stairs. So the majority of people should look on sex as an enjoyable workout. And we all know that workouts are of little value unless they become routine.
But I’d like to add a word of caution since I have no desire to be responsible for death in the bedroom. Don’t use sex to enter "The Guinness Book of Records" after a heart attack. Some coronary patients never say die and have to prove their prowess as soon as possible.
I recall a speaker at a medical meeting who reported that one patient, in a private room, engaged in sex the day after an attack. He certainly should be awarded A plus for his enthusiasm, but he could also have been on next morning’s obituary page.
Patients who initiate sex following a heart attack should let their doctor know if they experience chest pain, shortness of breath, an irregular heart rate, dizziness or undue fatigue.
Looking at the overall picture, several other factors are more important than sex in circumventing another coronary event. Moreover, a satisfactory sex life is vital to a happy marriage whether or not it’s been interrupted by heart attack. As I’ve often told patients, “sex is only five per cent of a marriage, but the first five per cent.”
Moreover, sex is a 100-per-cent natural remedy, a good way to relieve stress and anxiety, rather than reaching for anti-depressants or sleeping pills. In fact, a study at Queen’s University showed that having sex three times a week cut the risk of heart attack in half.
Having said all this, I still believe being shot by a jealous lover is a great way to depart this planet. But now as years have passed by, I’m extending that age to 100.
Dr. W. Gifford-Jones (Dr. Ken Walker) has published a weekly medical column in Canada for the past 30 years. Visit his website docgiff.com and send comments to [email protected].