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Sex after a heart attack

Sex is safe for most people after a heart attack. If walking briskly up and down two flights of stairs does not cause pain or undue breathlessness then sex should also be symptom free.

But some people may be worried that it will trigger another heart attack, or they may have lost interest in sex. If people are concerned or having problems, they should talk to the doctor or the nurses. Many support organisations offer information and advice about sex after a heart attack (see 'Resources' section).

People who have faced a near death experience may feel a greater need for sexual intimacy. For one man and his wife, the need for sexual contact became more important after his heart attack.

 

He was concerned at first but making love with his wife became very important after facing a near...

He was concerned at first but making love with his wife became very important after facing a near...

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 54
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I did have a conversation with my wife about it and there was this rather funny thing in, I don't know whether it was, yeah it's in one of the booklets that you get about rehabilitation where it says 'if you're able to go up two flights of stairs, you're able to make love' which I think was quite amusing, because it rather puts into perspective this activity. 

I think that I can understand a concern about sex but actually what happened, it's interesting that what happened when I came out of hospital very closely mirrored what happened when my wife was diagnosed with cancer. And I think this is a fairly common, I mean, I gather it's a fairly common psychological consequence is that rather than turning away, one's, suddenly sex, sexual contact became very important. 

And in fact, since I've come out of hospital, I've had rather considerably more sexual activity than I would normally have had. I'm someone who's been married seventeen years etc., you know. But I think that's partially the closeness thing, and it's partially you know, I think it is that thing about death, having the proximity to death, having that effect, I gather it's a sort of fairly common psychological effect.

What that did though of course, what it has done is quite helpfully, at least at this stage - suggested that I'm not having that side effect, but of course I'm aware that, I mean, there may be an accumulative effect. But the first time that we made love I was aware, you know, I was conscious of 'oh my God you know', but that's about the only time I've thought that. But of course it's actually rather ridiculous because one's doing a lot of other things like going, running up stairs etc.

Sometimes if people feel depressed or anxious, it can take a while before they feel ready for sexual activity. One woman had lost her confidence and didn't feel good about herself, so she hadn't wanted to resume her sex life for a long time after her heart attack.

 

She lost her confidence and hasn't wanted to have sex for quite a time after her heart attack.

She lost her confidence and hasn't wanted to have sex for quite a time after her heart attack.

Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 36
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At first you're too scared, you're too scared, too scared to have sex because you're frightened in case you're going to have a heart attack. You know, your blood pressure's going to get high and have a heart attack, and for me, because I feel depressed and down all the time, I don't feel the slightest bit sexy at all. You know, I just, I've got no confidence or anything so, it's just knocked my sex life out the window completely at the moment.  

It's something I do need to address with my doctor because whether it's a physical thing or, or mental thing, you know, I do need to speak. They say if, you know, if you do suffer depression you haven't, and don't fancy sex that you do need to speak to somebody about it because there is supposed to be something wrong if that's the case, so, so, no. For me personally, you're frightened, and now, because I feel depressed and down, I don't feel nice or anything so I don't want to. 

That's the way that I feel, I don't want to. So then that creates a bad feeling at home because like my partner obviously feels rejected because I don't want to. But it's not because I don't want to because I don't feel the same way about him; it's how I feel about myself, so. But it's trying to explain that to him. But he doesn't understand that it's not because I don't care for him, it's just I don't really care too much about myself at the moment so that's why.

Some fear that having sex will cause another heart attack. One man who had had a recent heart attack had been concerned at first, but his worries soon passed. Another recalled that his wife was worried that he might hurt himself but they overcame any problems by talking to each other. One woman said that it was hard at first but things did improve with time.

 

His wife was concerned about having sex but they overcame her worries by talking to each other.

His wife was concerned about having sex but they overcame her worries by talking to each other.

Age at interview: 55
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 47
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Resuming your sex life after a heart attack, it's quite difficult. It wasn't so much difficult for me as for my wife actually. She was very concerned that I was going to throw another wobbler, but once you get over it, it's okay, yeah life comes back to normal and as for the beta blockers, I wouldn't say it's affected me greatly, no.

And your wife getting over that, is there anything that helped?

What helped was talking. You have to, you have to always, you can tell when things are not quite right, 'So what is the problem?' 'Oh I'm a bit concerned, I don't want you to hurt yourself, I don't want you to.' 'Okay I'm not going to hurt myself, I'm aware of what I'm doing. If I hurt, you'll know.' But it's not a problem.

 

It was hard resuming her sex life at first but things improved with time.

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It was hard resuming her sex life at first but things improved with time.

Age at interview: 42
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 37
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It was hard after a heart attack, really hard, because obviously it's like strenuous exercise. It was really hard to begin with. If I got an ache, I'd have to say, you know, we'll have to stop, because I've got an ache. 

But you do, you do get there, after time. But it is hard. My husband was good, like I say, patient, and it all takes time, but he was good. If you've got a good partner you're half way there, I think.

Those who have had bypass surgery may be conscious of the physical change to their bodies. One woman said she felt very conscious of the scars on her chest and leg but had overcome her feelings with support from her husband.

 

She felt conscious of her scars after bypass surgery but her husband helped her to overcome her...

She felt conscious of her scars after bypass surgery but her husband helped her to overcome her...

Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 53
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Because of the scar on, I didn't want anybody to look at me, even my legs, you know with the scar all up my leg. I didn't want anybody, I'd wear trousers all the while. And I didn't want anybody to see the scar down my chest. It sort of, it's you know, it was horrible. And I didn't feel, and I just didn't feel sexual at all. 

I just didn't want to know anything like that. But as time goes on and you get your confidence back, my husband's never worried. He loves me for me, whatever happens, I mean, he really does love me. So the caringness between, with him and that, that makes you feel nice about yourself again. 

He makes you feel, but at first I didn't, well it was a long time after that we had any sexual relations. But as I said, when you get your confidence back and he made me feel good, so that all come back.

Problems with erections in men after a heart attack may be the result of emotional stress or medication, such as beta-blockers. People experiencing this problem are advised to talk to their GP or the cardiac nurse because it may be possible to change medication or to prescribe medication specifically for erectile dysfunction. Such drugs as sildenafil (Viagra) are generally safe following heart attacks unless the person is taking a nitrate drug for angina. None of the men we interviewed mentioned that they had experienced this problem.

Last reviewed June 2017.

Last updated August 2010.

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