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Oct 01, 2016

Young Adults May Lose Interest in Sex After Heart Attack

High stress levels and diabetes significantly increased patients’ chances of experiencing sex problems in the year after heart attack.

Having a heart attack takes a toll on patients’ sex lives, according to research that shows many young adults encounter problems or lose interest in sex in the year after a heart attack.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, this study looked at changes in sexual activity among young adults after heart attack. Research shows that nearly 1 in 5 heart attacks occur among people aged 18–55 years, most of whom are sexually active prior to their event. However, findings also suggest that many patients shy away from sex after heart events, potentially taking a toll on quality of life.

To learn more, researchers analyzed data from the VIRGO study, which tracks the health of heart attack survivors from the United States and Spain. The study included 2,802 young adults treated for heart attack between 2008 and 2012, all of whom completed interviews about their health and quality of life in the year after hospitalization. Roughly two-thirds of participants were women, and the average age was 49 years old.

Overall, 40% of women and 55% of men reported being sexually active before their heart attack. Most participants—94% of men and 91% of women—resumed sexual activity after one year. However, 31% of men and 42% of women resuming sex developed sexual problems in the year following their heart attack. The most common problems included lack of interest, trouble lubricating among women and erectile difficulties among men.

Researchers also noted that high stress levels and diabetes significantly increased patients’ chances of experiencing sex problems in the year after heart attack. Participants that didn’t communicate with their doctor about sex in the first month after heart attack were 51% more likely to delay resuming sex than those that did.

Findings confirm that heart attacks can have a negative impact on patients’ sex lives, especially young women. As a result, authors highlight the importance of counseling on sex after heart attack. While it’s safe for most patients to resume sex soon after heart attack, patients may worry that sex could trigger another heart event. Findings suggest that counseling helps put patients’ minds at ease, as they were more likely to resume sex earlier if they discussed it with their doctor. With better counseling, experts hope to minimize the impact of heart attack on sexual activity and to help improve quality of life in young adults.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Is it safe to have sex after a heart attack?
  • Although many people are afraid to resume sexual activity after a heart attack, the risk of having a heart attack during sex is low for most patients. However, it’s important to discuss resuming both physical activity and sex after a heart attack to reduce risk of a second event.
  • How can I prevent a second heart attack?
  • Patients with a history of heart attack are at high risk for having a future heart attack. After suffering a heart attack, it’s important to work with your doctor to reduce risk with any combination of therapies, such as cardiac rehabilitation, lifestyle changes, and/or medication.

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