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Heart Health

Thinking about sex after a heart attack

November 8, 2016

Frank discussions with a doctor can help heart attack survivors return to sexual activity.

sex after a heart attack
Image: UrosPoteko/Thinkstock

Few things shake your sense of well-being more than a sudden heart attack. When the initial shock wears off, an over-whelming need to get life back to normal as quickly as possible usually takes hold. "Patients always ask me when can they drive again, when can they start exercising, and when can they return to work," says Dr. Donna Polk, a cardiologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. A key issue that seldom gets mentioned, though, is the struggle many heart attack survivors encounter when trying to resume their sex lives.

The same physical changes involved in a heart attack can conspire to diminish sexual enjoyment. Faulty circulation throughout the body, a hallmark of cardiovascular disease, reduces the amount of blood that reaches the sex organs. Men may develop erectile difficulties, and women may not have the blood flow needed for vaginal arousal and lubrication.

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