• Sex Generally Safe After Heart Attacks

ROCHESTER, Minn. — After a heart attack, it's probably safe to resume sexual activity sooner than might be expected, according to the April issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter. Patients and their partners may worry that sexual activity can cause harm. Most often, sexual activity can be resumed in a matter of days, weeks or months, depending on the patient's individual situation.

Less than 1 percent of heart attacks occur during sexual activity. The rate is the same in men who have had a heart attack as in men with no coronary artery disease. And, instances of sudden cardiac death during sexual intercourse are very low. The vast majority of those who died during intercourse were men, and 75 percent of them were having extramarital sex. In most cases, they were with a younger partner in an unfamiliar setting. In addition, excessive amounts of food and alcohol may have been consumed prior to death.

Here are some considerations about resuming sexual intercourse after a heart attack:

Ability to pass a stress test: This test evaluates how the heart performs during mild to moderate activity. For patients who pass the test without heart stress symptoms, angina, breathlessness or abnormal heart rhythms, it's probably reasonable to resume sexual activity.

Angioplasty or stenting: Sexual activity often can resume in a matter of days if angioplasty and stenting were used to restore blood flow to the coronary arteries. The delay is necessary for healing at the puncture site, usually in the upper groin area or arm.

Open-chest surgery: Sexual activity is generally not recommended for six to eight weeks to allow the sternum time to heal. With robotic or other minimally invasive surgery, the healing time may be considerably shorter.

A conversation with a physician is important to discuss individual circumstances. A doctor may counsel being well rested, avoiding unfamiliar locations and partners and foregoing overindulgence in food or alcohol.

In certain circumstances, resuming sexual activity isn't advised. They include uncontrolled heart rhythm problems and worsening heart failure.

Mayo Clinic Health Letter is an eight-page monthly newsletter of reliable, accurate and practical information on today's health and medical news. To subscribe, please call 800-333-9037 (toll-free), extension 9771, or visit Mayo Clinic Health Letter Online.

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