Harvard Heart Letter

Resuming sex after a heart attack

A new report answers the questions on everyone's mind.

After a heart attack or revascularization procedure, many people wonder whether it will be safe to resume sexual activity, and if so, when. They may worry about having another heart attack, or about dying during intercourse. If they have had bypass surgery, they may worry that sexual activity might be painful. Despite the importance of sex in a healthy relationship, many people (including doctors) are uncomfortable discussing it. As a result, questions go unasked, and information is not volunteered. The whole issue becomes the elephant in the room.

The American Heart Association (AHA) felt that evidence-based recommendations might help doctors initiate discussions on this important topic. The AHA commissioned a committee of experts in various fields to review studies and determine what is known on the topic. The resulting comprehensive statement on sexual activity and cardiovascular disease answers most questions people are too embarrassed to ask. "I think the guidelines are excellent. They provide practical advice. Where there is no research evidence to give clear guidance, the guidelines offer useful recommendations in these gray areas. They are worth review by partners as well as patients, since spouses and significant others are often afraid to resume sexual activity out of concern they will harm the patient," says Harvard Heart Letter co-editor Dr. Thomas Lee. We summarize some of the key points here. The entire document can be found in the February 28, 2012 issue of Circulation.

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