Sex, like any other physical activity, can trigger a heart attack. A heart attack after or during sexual activity is called a postcoital heart attack. But do not let that make you put sex off the table as this is a rare possibility. However, experts share that those with cardiovascular conditions — especially older adults — often fear having a heart attack during sexual intercourse. Dr Komal Pawar, consultant – cardiology, SRV Hospitals, Mumbai, points out that in reality, post-coital heart attacks have an incidence rate of as low as one percent out of all recorded attacks.
Can you have a heart attack during sex?
The symptoms of heart attacks during sex are similar to any other heart attack. They include breathlessness, faster heart rate, heaviness on the chest, palpitations and sweating. Experts say any physical exertion can trigger a heart attack in case of an underlying cardiac issue. Dr Rajan Bhonsle, Hon professor and HOD, Department of Sexual Medicine, KEM Hospital & G S Medical College, Mumbai, says sexual intercourse, just like any exercise, burns calories and can lead to a high heart rate and heavy breathing. So, it can be difficult to recognize the symptoms if one has a heart attack during sex. “The palpitations and high heart rate usually come down within seconds after sex. But if it continues for a long time, one should approach a doctor,” says Dr Pawar.
However, no one — not even those with a history of heart conditions like angioplasty — should have a phobia of sexual intercourse, say experts.
Who is at risk of a postcoital heart attack?
Some people with existing heart issues or chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension, with poor lifestyle habits like smoking and drinking could be at risk for postcoital heart attack. Dr Pawar explains, “The blood flows to the heart when its muscle relaxes. As the heart rate increases due to exertion during any physical activity, it gets less time to relax. Hence, in those with pre-existing coronary artery disease, the blood supply gets reduced due to plaque formation and narrow arteries.” She adds, however, that blood supply interruptions during sexual intercourse do not cause a heart attack as the transient increase of heart rate is only for a very brief time.
People who take medication for erectile dysfunction without medical advice and those addicted to substance use can be at risk too, shares Dr Pawar.
Should people with heart conditions avoid sex?
Experts share that those with existing heart conditions should not abstain from sex until advised otherwise by a medical expert. Dr Pawar adds that a person’s heart muscle is unstable for a while, say after a cardiac event like a heart attack. So, after recovery, when one resumes exercise, they can also have sex.
Dr Bhonsle shares that sex is good for the heart as it also helps reduce stress and anxiety. He says, “During stress, hormones like adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are secreted, which are harmful to the heart.”
In case of any [cardiac] discomfort during sex, it is crucial to stop immediately. Dr Pawar adds, “The partner can call for help and shift the person immediately to the nearby hospital in the case of a heart attack. If they collapse and are unresponsive, giving CPR can help.”
An important precaution is to avoid taking any unprescribed medicines. Dr Bhonsle shares that certain medications to enhance sexual performance, when taken alongside nitrite-containing medicines for heart conditions, can be harmful. It can cause blood pressure to drop to dangerously low levels. Also, if one develops angina or chest pain during sexual intercourse or any physical exertion, which stops as soon as the activity ends, it is best to consult an expert.
Experts say the ways to avoid postcoital heart attacks are no different from those followed generally to ensure good heart health. They include:
- Keeping blood pressure and diabetes under control
- Maintaining ideal weight
- Exercising regularly
- Avoiding smoking, alcohol and drugs
- Taking prescribed medications only
- Ensuring regular health checkups
- A heart attack after or during sex is called a postcoital heart attack. However, the incidence of this condition is less than one percent of all heart attacks.
- People with underlying cardiac issues are at higher risk of a postcoital heart attack.
- Symptoms are similar to any other heart attack, and one should seek medical help immediately if their chest discomfort or heart rate does not come down within seconds after sexual intercourse.
- One should avoid taking any unprescribed medicines, especially while on medications for their existing cardiac conditions, to prevent any heart issues.