What Your Doctor Didn’t Tell You About Your Heart Attack

As a cardiologist, I deal with taking care of the physical heart of my patients all the time.  But, I also want to make sure their emotional heart stays healthy too as it helps the physical heart stay healthy.  That’s why after a patient has had a heart attack, I want to make sure they understand everything about returning to a normal life…including intimacy.  Here’s what I tell them…

Your Love Life After A Heart Attack

Your intimate life is the one area many patients don’t receive counseling on after they’ve had a heart attack.  Especially women.  Men are more likely to ask for advice in this area than women, but even then not so much.

A recent study in the American Journal of Cardiology reported that out of 1,900 heart attack patients, only 1/3 of women, and less than half of men, were given “instructions” of resuming intimacy after their heart attack.  As a result, 44% of heart attack patients hadn’t resumed intimate relationships a year after their heart attack.

Many people develop unnecessary worry about intimacy after a heart attack.  They’re often afraid it will bring on another heart attack.  The truth is, intimate relations are like mild to moderate exercise – something heart attack patients are encouraged to do to strengthen their heart muscle.

Some doctors will say, if you can climb a flight of stairs engaging in intimate relations is about the same level of exertion.  But, a more exact way to determine exercise – and intimacy – tolerance, after a heart attack, is to have a stress test.  If you can walk comfortably at a 3-4 level pace, you should have no trouble with intimate relations.  Remember, you’re making love, not competing in the Olympics.  Fortunately, how fast you can get to the finish line is not the goal in this particular sport.

But, I also tell my patients that having a heart attack actually gives you an opportunity to re-evaluate your life on all levels, including intimacy.  What you did before your heart attack may no longer serve your general life as well as your love life.

Having a heart attack can be a very emotional roller coaster, and wake-up call, for many people.  Recovering from a heart attack gives you a lot of time to think about what exactly wasn’t working in your life and what you can do to fix it.

As a result, like many of my heart attack patients, you may want to change many aspects of your former life. You may want to let go of situations that were causing you stress and unhappiness and spend more time with the activities you enjoy.

That’s why your love life is so important to resume as soon as possible after a heart attack.   It plays a very important role in how fast and well you’ll heal, both physically and emotionally.  So, you may need to make some changes in this area as well.

You may want to explore different, less strenuous positions, or forms of intimacy, until you’re completely recovered.  But, even this can bring about positive changes in your relationship.  Spending more time with other forms of intimacy like hand-holding, cuddling, touching, hugging, etc, can become just as gratifying until you’re ready to completely resume actual intercourse.

The truth is, many of my patients develop closer relationships with their spouses or significant others after their heart attack.  They start to focus on quality and spending more time in the process of lovemaking than they often did before.  You may find, like many of my patients have, that you fall in love with your partner all over again.  Many of them tell me that their heart attack was the best thing that happened to their relationship.  It caused them to re-focus on what’s important to them.

On the other hand, the opposite can be true as well.  If you had a failing relationship before your heart attack, you may now decide that it’s time to end this negative part of your life and find happiness.

In any case, a heart attack is a life-changing event in many ways.  You need to be able to talk to your doctor, or a nurse, or counselor, about all the questions you may have about resuming intimacy.

Fortunately, recently, the American Heart Association developed actual guidelines for healthcare professionals to follow in advising heart attack patients.  These guidelines focus on making sure a heart attack patient has “exit” counseling regarding returning to normal life in general, including intimacy.

If your doctor, or healthcare professional, doesn’t broach the subject with you, don’t hesitate to ask questions about resuming intimate activity.  Be sure to address any specific issues you may have – such as ED in men or painful intercourse in women.  Often times, these conditions are an offshoot of your heart health and/or hormonal imbalances of getting older and successful solutions can be found.

If you now need to take nitroglycerine after your heart attack, taking ED drugs, like Viagra or Cialis, etc, can be dangerous.  In addition, certain drugs that treat high blood pressure may decrease your desire. But, this may just be temporary.  Talk to your doctor as your dosage may need to be adjusted.

The important thing to remember is that lovemaking after a heart attack has very low risk to it. In most cases, you can resume intimacy a few weeks afterwards.   For added reassurance, ask your doctor for a stress tolerance treadmill test before you leave the hospital, if it’s not done routinely.  Then get back to creating and living a happy, fulfilled life and enjoying intimacy again.

Stay Well,
Ron Blankstein, M.D.

 

Is Sex Safe After a Heart Attack, http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/08/health/sex-heart-attack-kerner/index.html

Sex After A Heart Attack, http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/features/sex-after-a-heart-attack?page=3

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