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Matters of the Heart
Reclaiming Intimacy After a Heart Attack

By Mary Damiano

(Page 1 of 3)

One of the biggest issues caregivers face when their loved one is recovering from a heart attack is resuming intimacy. One reason for this is the myth that sexual activity can bring on another attack. 

While there are cases—the most famous perhaps, is ex-Vice President Nelson Rockefeller having a heart attack and dying while in the act with his mistress—cardiologists agree that sexual activity for people who have had heart attacks is no more strenuous than climbing two flights of stairs.

But many caregivers and their loved ones recovering from heart attacks don’t know this because they don’t ask their doctors, and doctors often don’t take the initiative to bring it up. 

When Robin Baxley, 47, had her heart attack in April 2001, her main concern was with getting better. “I had a hematoma, which you get after surgery, so I wasn’t myself for a month,” she says.

The Miramar, Florida resident spent a week in the hospital and says that initially, sex was not a priority. “That was the last thing on my mind,” she recalls.
Shyness prevented Baxley from asking her doctor specifics about resuming intimate relations with her husband. “I really took it upon myself,” she says. “I did not ask the doctor because I felt funny asking him.” 

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, a 1996 study conducted by James E. Muller, M.D. of Deaconess Hospital and Harvard Medical School, found that there was minimal risk associated with having sex after a heart attack.

Researchers conducting the study interviewed a national sample of 858 heart attack patients who were sexually active in the year before their heart attacks. The researchers discovered that while there is an increased risk of having a heart attack during the two hours following sexual activity, that risk is about the same for everyone, whether or not there is a history of cardiac disease. 

The researchers cited previous data indicating that the risk of heart attack in a healthy person is about one in a million, and the risk of heart attack in a person with a history of cardiac disease is about two in a million.

The study also found that the risk of heart attack caused by sexual activity rises to about two in a million for a healthy person and 20 in a million for a person with a history of cardiac disease.

Researchers also report that “regular exercise can reduce, and possibly eliminate” the slight increased risk of a heart attack associated with sexual activity.


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