Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Bypass surgery no barrier to sexual satisfaction

Heart Beat

Bypass surgery no barrier to sexual satisfaction

Is a cardiac surgeon's needle the counterpoint to Cupid's arrow, dousing the spark of desire and sex? It may feel that way, especially right after bypass surgery. Even after chest and spirits begin to mend, some men and women don't feel like having sex again, or are too worried to be relaxed or comfortable making love.

Finnish researchers asked 200 men and women about their level of sexual satisfaction before bypass surgery or artery-opening angioplasty and again eight years later. Seventy-seven percent of women and 52% of men reported "no problems" with sexual satisfaction before the procedure. Eight years later, 70% of women and 59% of men reported being satisfied with their sex lives. The researchers couldn't quite explain the improvement in men and the decline in women. Writing in the international journal Heart and Lung, they speculated that post-procedure gains in energy and well-being and a decrease in symptoms may have made sex more possible or more pleasurable for men. The decrease in sexual satisfaction among women may reflect the greater emotional and psychological toll that coronary artery disease, or its treatment, takes on women compared with men.

Most men and women can safely have sex after a heart attack, bypass surgery, or angioplasty. Many doctors aren't comfortable bringing up the subject of sex with their patients. That means if you want information, you'll probably have to initiate the discussion. If your doctor doesn't answer your questions, or evades the issue, ask for a referral to a clinician with expertise in this area.

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