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Sex After a Heart Attack: 7 Things You Need to Know

The idea of sex after a heart attack can evoke fear in some survivors. Here's what you should—and shouldn't—be worried about.

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Every year, about 805,000 Americans have a heart attack and more than 90 percent survive, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Surviving a heart attack is a life-changing event that requires some lifestyle changes to be made. So, how does it affect your sex life? Is it safe to have sex after a heart attack?

The short answer is yes.

Read down below to learn how you can resume your sex life—with some caveats.

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Let your food digest

Dinner and romance may sound like a delicious combination, but cardiologist Michael Miller, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, and the author of Heal Your Heart, advises to exercise caution. "Patients resuming sexual activity after a heart attack, stent placement, or open-heart surgery should wait at least several hours after a big meal such as dinner," Dr. Miller says. Holding off allows your body to properly digest foods, which in turn can help reduce possible stress on your heart. A wait time of one to three hours is optimal. But don't skip dinner just to get busy. Here are 7 silent signs of a heart attack you should know.

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Don't mix meds

It's important to know which medications you're taking and how they could interact with others. It's especially important when it comes to sex after a heart attack. For example, Dr. Miller notes that if you or your partner have been taking erectile dysfunction (ED) medications such as Viagra, Cialis, or Levitra, you should not take a nitroglycerin medication such as Imdur or sublingual glyceryl trinitrate for at least 72 hours. Nitroglycerin extended-release capsules are designed to help relieve chest pain for people with coronary artery disease, making it easier for blood to flow to the heart. However, there can be some serious side effects from overlapping an ED medication with your nitroglycerin drugs. Know your medications and reach out to your doctor if you have any questions.

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Know when you're in the clear...

How soon you resume sexual activity after a heart attack varies depending on the type of heart problem and any procedures you had to treat it. If you had a heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, the standard recommendation is to wait one week. If you can engage in mild to moderate physical activity, comparable to climbing two staircases or taking a brisk walk, there are no additional risks to resuming sex, according to a study  published in 2015 in Journal of the American College of Cardiology. But you should be able to do these things without experiencing chest or neck discomfort, fatigue, or shortness of breath, adds Dr. Miller. (Here are things to know about heart attacks before you have one.)

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...If you had a stent placed

If you've been treated with a stent–a tiny, wire mesh tube used to prop open an artery–you can resume intercourse according to guidelines similar to after a heart attack: A one-week waiting time is fine, Dr. Miller says, so long as the access site (typically the groin) is free of complications. Again, you want to be sure you can walk at a brisk pace or climb two sets of stairs without issue, meaning not having shortness of breath, fatigue, or chest or neck discomfort. (These are the heart-health secrets cardiologists won't tell you.)

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...If you had coronary bypass surgery

Coronary bypass surgery is a procedure that diverts the flow of blood around a section of a blocked or partially blocked artery in your heart. To improve blood flow to your heart, surgeons take a healthy blood vessel from your arm, leg, or chest, and connect it to healthy heart arteries. If you've had this more serious and invasive procedure, you'll need to give your body additional time to recover. "The recommendation is to wait until there is sufficient healing of the chest region, which is generally six to eight weeks following uncomplicated surgery," according to Dr. Miller.

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Sex may not be the same

If your male partner suffered a heart attack, he may go on to experience challenges in the bedroom. A study published in 2016 in JAMA Cardiology found that 31 percent of men between the ages 18 to 55, who had no sexual problems prior to their heart attacks, ended up with at least one new sexual challenge the following year; among them, ED (about 22 percent) and lack of interest in sex (almost 19 percent). And it's common, as people who have had major health setbacks often become worried or saddened, and these thoughts can interfere with healthy sex, both physically and mentally. This is exactly what to do if you're having a heart attack.

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Bust the myth that sex causes heart attacks

If you don't have any serious complications, there's no need to worry about having a second heart attack during sex. In fact, the risk of having another heart attack during sex, or while masturbating, is highly unlikely, according to the 2015  Journal of the American College of Cardiology study. The researchers concluded, "it is important to reassure patients that they need not to be worried about [sexual activity] and should resume their usual [sexual activity]." (Don't miss these signs that you're headed for a heart attack.)

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