Sexual health can be an important part of your overall health—and a heart attack should not get in the way. Female heart attack patients and healthcare providers are encouraged to engage in an open dialogue about their sexual health as part of treatment.
“Most women don’t have discussions with their doctors about resuming sex after a heart attack even though many experience fear or other sexual problems,” said Emily M. Abramsohn, M.P.H., a researcher at the University of Chicago and lead author of a recent study on women’s sex health after a heart attack featured in the Journal of the American Heart Association . “We wanted to get a better understanding of women’s sexual recovery and how it could be improved.”
Most women initiated conversation with their doctors, resumed sexual activity within four weeks
In this study, researchers surveyed 17 women in depth about their sex lives before and after their heart attacks. The women, average 60 years old, were married or in long-term relationships. Researchers found that after their heart attacks:
- Most women and many of their partners were afraid to have sex again. They wondered when it was safe to resume sex and how much exertion their hearts could handle.
- Despite this fear, most women resumed having sex, many within four weeks.
- Most women wanted to have sex to be close to their partner again and get back to a “normal” life.
- Of the few women who talked with their doctors about resuming sex, most initiated the discussion.
Ask your doctor about your concerns
Cardiologists could ease concerns about sex after a heart attack if they talked openly with their patients about what to expect, Abramsohn said. The discussion should start while the woman is still in the hospital and continue throughout her recovery with other members of her healthcare team.
“It’s important for you and your partner to know you’re not alone in your confusion and fear about returning to sex after a heart attack,” Abramsohn said. “If your doctor isn’t giving you information to help you feel more comfortable about it, it’s important for you to ask them for it.”
How your doctor can help
According to recommendations by American Heart Association, healthcare providers treating heart attack patients should do the following relating to sexual health:
- Provide routine assessments after a cardiac event and during follow-up visits to determine if the patient is healthy enough to resume sexual activities.
- Give individualized, structured counseling based on specific needs and medical condition.
- Discuss recommended positions, how to be intimate without having sexual intercourse and when to resume sexual activity.
Exercise stress testing is recommended for some patients to determine if the heart is strong enough to resume sexual activity. Physical activities such as brisk walking may be suggested for some heart patients before resuming sexual activity. In addition, while heart medications can affect sex drive and function, patients should talk to their healthcare provider before stopping any medications. A healthcare provider can determine if sexual problems are caused by the drug or an underlying condition such as depression.
Make sure you speak with your doctor to receive the treatment you need. Learn more about sex and heart disease on Go Red For Women.