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 Sexual Activity and Heart Attack: Not to Worry 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Mind Body Health by . View all columns in series
Patients and their partners who avoid sexual activity for fear of triggering a recurrent heart attack may needlessly deprive themselves of a rich source of pleasure and satisfaction that contributes greatly to their quality of life.

In a recent study of over 1200 men and 500 women subjects were confidentially interviewed about their sexual activity in the hours, days, and year preceding their heart attack. The fndings: a little bad news, but mostly good news.

The Bad News
Only half of the patients (age 20-92) reported having any sexual activity in the year preceding their heart attack. (This raises an interesting question as to whether lack of any sexual activity itself increases the risk of heart attack.)

Among those who were sexually active, the act of intercourse about doubles the risk of heart attack in the subsequent 2-hour period. But not to worry . . .

The Good News
The absolute increase in risk of heart attack following sexual activity is so slight that even doubling it is not much of a danger. For example, the risk of having a heart attack in the two hours following intercourse might rise from one chance in a million per hour to two chances in a million per hour÷probably not something to lose sleep or sex over.

There's more good news. For those who exercise regularly, there is no increased risk of heart attack following sexual intercourse. Habitual physical exertion two to three times per week protects against all heart disease and effectively eliminates any excess risk associated with sexual activity. In other words, if youâre physically fit, you can put your heart into sexual activity without taxing it!

These findings should be reassuring to the half a million people in the US each year who survive a heart attack and over 11 million patients who have existing heart disease. Patients, partners, and physicians can now reassure themselves that:

sexual activity after heart attack is generally very low risk

regular physical activity promotes a healthy heart and safer, satisfying sex life

As Stanford cardiologist Robert F. DeBusk put it: "Patients should be interested not only in the years in their lives, but also the liveliness of their years."

For More Information:
Muller JE, Mittleman MA, Maclure M, et al: Triggering myocardial infarction by sexual activity: Low absolute risk and prevention by regular physical exertion. JAMA 1996; 275:1405-1409.

DeBusk RF: Sexual activity triggering myocardial infarction: One less thing to worry about (Editorial). JAMA 1996;275:1447-1448.

Excerpted with permission from the Quarterly Newsletter, Mind/Body Health Newsletter. For subscription information call 1-(800)-222-4745 or visit the Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge website.

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 About The Author
David S. Sobel, M.D., M.P.H., is a practicing physician in adult medicine and Medical Director of Patient Education and Health Promotion for Kaiser Permanente Northern California. He is physician lead for the......moreDavid Sobel MD
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