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Sex Is Safe for Many with Heart Disease, Report Says

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Image courtesy of iStockphoto/Yuri_Arcurs

Sex might seem like a risky occupation for the more than 27 million Americans who have been diagnosed with heart disease. But that’s not necessarily so, says a new report. The risk varies greatly depending on the severity of a person’s condition—as well as how stressful (or, perhaps, exciting) the sex is.

Cardiac patients whose condition is considered stable have a low risk of inducing further heart problems by having sex, according to the report, published online Thursday in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. Of all people who die suddenly, only about 0.6 percent did so while engaging in sexual activity, according to previous research. If that still sounds a little risky, consider that three quarters of those people were sleeping with someone other than their spouse—most with a younger partner, at a location other than home, or were trying to perform “after excessive food and alcohol consumption,” says report authors, led by Glen Levine, of the Baylor College of Medicine.

The researchers suggest that relatively healthy heart disease sufferers might do well to stress less about sex—and checking with their doctor is a good first step toward ensuring that it’s a safe endeavor. “Changes in sexual activity after a cardiac event may impair the patient’s quality of life, negatively affect psychological health, and strain marital or other important intimate relationships, which in turn may lead to depression and anxiety,” according to the report. Research published last year found that sexual satisfaction might actually help protect against heart disease.

The report also concludes that cardiovascular drugs have minimal effect on sexual function, and the authors recommend patients continue to take their meds. They also advise talking these things over with a doctor of counselor. Most patients and their partners feel that “they have been inadequately educated on this topic by healthcare providers and desire more information on how to resume their normal sexual activity,” the authors noted.

Katherine Harmon Courage About the Author: Katherine Harmon Courage is a freelance writer and contributing editor for Scientific American. Her book Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature In the Sea is out now from Penguin/Current. Follow on Twitter @KHCourage.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. ErnestPayne 2:53 pm 01/20/2012

    Well even if sex is “dangerous” consult your physician about “safe” sex for your condition.

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  2. 2. turell 6:52 pm 01/20/2012

    When I was a Cardaic Fellow in training in 1958, we knew that sex was generally safe for cardiac patients. My boss had conducted a study with married medical students which showed the caloric cost was not large. So much medical info today is stuff we knew a half cantury ago.

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  3. 3. Daniel35 2:54 pm 01/22/2012

    It seems like a major contradiction to suggest that life can be worth living if you’re not enjoying it. It seems the best way to die is when you’re not expecting it, when you’re distracted by other activities. For many who feel they’re beyond their productive years, life is about finding these activities. At 76, I still distract myself by looking for new ways to contribute to human culture, including “making/creating/expressing my love for another person. But then I don’t have a heart problem, more of a belly fat problem.

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  4. 4. Quinn the Eskimo 12:18 pm 01/24/2012

    I wonder if Katherine Harmon is the listed beneficiary?

    Risk is different if you stand to get the check.

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