Harvard Health Letter
7:48 PM EDT, June 27, 2012
For the first time, the American Heart Association is weighing in on a very personal subject: sexual activity. The organization has issued a scientific statement noting that sex is safe for the majority of heart disease patients and that patients should discuss the subject with their doctors.
"The AHA statement on sexual activity and heart disease is really a big step forward in medicine," says Dr. Deepak Bhatt, an interventional cardiologist and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. "Patients with heart disease often have questions about sexual activity, and it is time to start discussing those issues openly."
It's been a tricky subject. While exercise has been an accepted way to help treat heart patients for years, many heart patients have been concerned about resuming sexual relations because of the strain it may put on their heart or any cardiac devices.
Now they have guidelines, with the association's statement noting, in effect, that if a heart patient can handle a round of golf and other everyday activities such as climbing a flight of stairs, he or she can handle sex too.
"If a patient does not have symptoms with moderate physical activity, enough to work up a light sweat, then sexual activity is likely safe. If uncertain, an exercise stress test may be useful to gauge exercise capacity and the safety of sexual activity," Bhatt says.
And sex is not right for all heart patients. Bhatt says it depends on what specific heart disease a patient has, how severe it is and how well controlled it is. If heart disease results in frequent chest discomfort, shortness of breath or lightheadedness, for example, sexual activity may not be safe.
But the general recommendation for patients to resume sex after a heart attack is to wait at least a week, as long as there are no cardiac symptoms and no other complications from the heart attack.
Other recommendations are to wait several days after a stent procedure to make sure the catheterization site, often in the leg, has healed properly, and to wait at least six to eight weeks after coronary artery bypass surgery, to make sure the chest incision has healed.
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