A heart attack is a scary experience for anyone. Following such a life-threatening event, most will do everything they can to avoid another heart attack from happening. Fears of a recurrent heart attack often mean that patients avoid certain activates they believe could trigger another heart attack. Sex is often one of those activities that many patients believe might be too hard on their heart.
A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Chicago found that sexual health problems are common after a heart attack and that most patients avoid discussing such issues with their doctors. Doctors often don’t address these issues with their patients which creates further problems.
The study’s aim is to increase awareness of the importance of sexual health for heart attack patients and to help create guidelines for doctors on how to talk about sexual health with their patients.
About the Study
The study in question was published last August in JAMA Cardiology and examined sexual activity and functioning in younger men and women the following year after they experienced an acute myocardial infarction (AMI) also known as a heart attack.
The study included a total of 2802 people from the US and Spain. The data for this study was collected from a previous longitudinal study called Variation in Recovery: Role of Gender on Outcomes of Young AMI Patients.
Researchers from the University of Chicago looked for characteristics associated with loss of sexual activity specifically in order to examine whether sexual health declined following a heart attack and what role physicians played in this decline. The topic of sex after a heart attack is often considered taboo even though in the majority of all cases, it is completely safe.
Better Guidelines For Doctors
The study was carried out with the aim to help clinicians develop better care guidelines for AMI patients. Harlan Krumholz, MD, professor of medicine at Yale and director of the Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation and one of the study’s author’s states that clinicians are very often too embarrassed to ask their patients about their sexual health. She also states that these questions are important as sexual health can greatly impact a patient’s well-being and recovery following a heart attack.
Previous research has already emphasized the importance of sexual health for a patient’s well-being following a heart attack. There is even a set of such guidelines provided in the Asian Journal of Andrology which was published two years ago.
What Research Data Shows?
The researchers found that more than half of women (59%) and a little less than half of men (46%) reported sexual functioning problems in the year following a heart attack. The data also showed that physicians played a great role in this as patients were more likely to talk about sexual health after a heart attack if the physician was the one to initiate the conversation.
According to the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Stacy Lindau, men avoid talking to their doctors because they feel embarrassed and believe that if their doctor doesn’t raise the issue, then neither should they. She suggests men who have any doubts about resuming sex after a heart attack to initiate a conversation about this topic with their physician. The issue was similar with women who were even less likely to discuss sexual health issues with their doctor and who also tend to experience more problems with sexual functioning after an AMI even more so than men.
What Patients Can Do?
Dr. Stacy Lindau who is also an associate professor of obstetrics/gynecology and medicine-geriatrics at the University of Chicago believes that this study emphasizes the importance of designing optimal interventions that will improve patient well-being following a heart attack.
After all, the first step in rehabilitation is consultation with a cardiologist who tells patients about what they can expect after a heart attack in terms of their health and functioning. There is no reason why sexual functioning should not be brought up in such counseling sessions.
The guidelines given in the article published in the Asian Journal of Andrology that we’ve mentioned previously even suggests including the partner in these counseling sessions as such topics are a concern for both partners.
Sex after a heart attack is a taboo subject among patients and doctors alike according to the study conducted by researchers from the University of Chicago. Patients often fear that sex is too hard on their post-AMI heart ant that they should avoid sexual activity.
However, sex after a heart attack is not dangerous for most patients, and a cardiologist should be clear about this with their patients.
On the other hand, if a doctor does not bring up the question on resuming sexual activity to their heart attack patients, then patients themselves should ask their doctors about any concerns they might be having.