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Posted May 28 2010 7:17am

Resuming sexual activity after having had a heart attack is perfectly safe for the majority of people, but unless this is discussed with patients by their doctor as part of the help & support they receive, they may worry about the possible consequences for their health.

Until recently little was known about what advice people receive or how likely they are to resume their sex life following a period in hospital. Now a new study carried out in America by researchers at the University of Chicago has come up with some interesting data on the topic.

As part of the study one thousand seven hundred & sixty participants were interviewed both one month & one year after having had their heart attack. The average age of male patients was fifty nine, whereas that of women was sixty one.

The researchers found that both male & female patients who were not given advice about sex prior to being discharged from hospital were thirty to forty per cent more likely to either be having much less sex than they were having before their heart attack, or indeed to have stopped having sex altogether.

Interestingly the study showed that men were far more likely to have been given advice about sex before leaving the hospital. Forty six per cent of the men interviewed said that they’d had a discussion with a doctor about it, as opposed to thirty five percent of the female participants.

The results of the study also showed that men were more likely to have resumed some sort of sexual activity in the year following their heart attack, with sixty eight per cent of men & forty one per cent of women having done so.

Some of the discrepancy between the two groups could be accredited to the differences in age & marital status, though the study did make some allowance for this.

The study – not yet published in a medical journal – was presented at The American Heart Association’s conference, in Washington DC. Prof Stacy Tessler Lindau, who led the study, told the conference that patients were misguided in thinking that sex was dangerous. She urged doctors to assist them in resuming normal sex lives by raising the subject even if it wasn’t part of a routine checklist prior to discharge

“People perceive it might kill them. And it’s not just the person with the heart attack, but also their partner,” she told the conference.

“If you can walk up two flights of stairs or do moderate exercise, then it’s OK to have sex. The likelihood of dying during sexual intercourse, even among people who have had a heart attack, is really small.

“Sexuality is an important part of life throughout life, and most heart attack patients are sexually active.”

She urged doctors to assist patients in resuming normal sex lives by raising the subject even if it wasn’t part of the normal checklist procedure prior to discharge.

“For the most part, physicians just aren’t discussing this topic with their patients after a heart attack. …not raising the question of sexuality leaves the door closed”

The conference heard that after a heart attack people can suffer from depression & mood swings which can dampen an interest in sex, but that these usually ceased within three months.

The British Heart Foundation said that the research highlighted how important it was for doctors to reassure patients that sexual activity is safe even if someone suffers from heart problems.

“Some people are scared of having sex after a heart attack in case the exertion causes another one. But this is extremely unlikely,” said Cathy Ross, a cardiac nurse at the charity.

“You can still enjoy a happy and healthy sex life, even if you have a heart condition.”

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