Despite recommendations, few doctors provide proper counseling about resuming sexual activity following a heart attack, according to a recent study.
Published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation, this study analyzed hospital data from the U.S. and Spain to determine just how many heart attack patients receive counseling on sexual activity after a heart attack. Both U.S. and European guidelines recommend that doctors provide guidance to patients after a heart attack, as heart attack can reduce sexual activity and function. And for many patients, there is a fear that sex could trigger another heart attack and such a loss of sexual activity can lead to depression and a reduced quality of life. However, the fact is that most guidelines advise that sexual activity soon after a heart attack is safe as long as the patient can partake in physical activity.
To see just how many patients are receiving education on the issue, researchers used data from the VIRGO study (Variation in Recovery: Role of Gender on Outcomes of Young AMI Patients), which contains data from 127 hospitals in the United States and Spain. After comparing data from 3,500 young heart attack patients, researchers found that only 12% of women and 19% of men reported discussing sexual activity with their physician in the month after their heart attack. Among those receiving counseling, nearly 70% were told to restrict sexual activity like by limiting sex and keeping the heart rate down. Older patients and those who reported being sexually inactive prior to their heart attack were also less likely to receive guidance regarding sexual activity. And while women were less likely than men to receive counseling on the topic, women in Spain were significantly more likely to be given restrictions around sexual activity than U.S. women.
Based on study findings, authors conclude that very few young patients receive proper counseling about sexual activity after a heart attack. Findings are especially concerning, as it’s estimated that one in five heart attacks occur in people ages 18-55 years old, many of which are sexually active prior to their heart event.
Whether sex is considered safe after a heart attack or should be restricted, it’s important that doctors have an open conversation with patients to educate them on the topic. Although such physical activity be dangerous for some patients after a heart attack, that’s not always the case and patients can benefit from counseling to address mental and physical implications of sexual activity following a heart attack.