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Sex rarely the cause of heart attacks, researchers find


Despite the depictions in television dramas or romance novels, having sex rarely triggers a heart attack, according to new research published this week.

That's good news for us all. But the findings are especially encouraging for people who already have had a heart attack and worry that the exertion of sex could trigger another cardiovascular episode. Researchers said their data show that's very unlikely, and that if anything, sex could qualify as a mild form of aerobic exercise, they wrote in a review letter this week in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Beginning about 2000, researchers began tracking the sexual patterns of 536 patients, ages 30 to 70, who had suffered a myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack. The patients initially reported how often they had sex before their heart attack, as well as the timing of their last sexual activity before the heart attack. Fewer than 1 percent reported having sex within an hour of a heart attack, with nearly 80 percent saying that their last sexual activity came more than 24 hours before experiencing a cardiovascular event.

[When can you resume having sex after a heart attack?]

Doctors followed up for 10 years, during which time patients in the group experienced 100 more heart attacks and other cardiovascular events. Researchers said sexual activity does not appear to have played a role in triggering those problems. In fact, they said, sex isn't particularly stressful on the heart and involves about as much exertion as taking a vigorous walk or climbing two flights of stairs.

"The clear result that sexual activity [after a heart attack] is safe and even beneficial surprised me," Dietrich Rothenbacher, lead author of the study and professor and chair of the Institute of Epidemiology and Medical Biometry at Ulm University in Germany, said in an e-mail.

The study wasn't all good news for heart patients feeling anxious about getting their groove on again. Even as the evidence suggests that the benefits of sexual activity outweigh any cardiovascular risks, researchers said the various medications that heart disease patients commonly take could increase the odds of erectile dysfunction.

Rothenbacher said he hopes the study's results can "allow physicians to more often speak to patients after [a heart attack] about this important topic – [it is] important for the quality of life of patients and their partners."