A Heart Attack's Impact On Sexual Activity

Having a heart attack is a life changing event and for women it can also mean impaired sexual activity and function in the year after the episode.

Heart attacks also known as acute myocardial infarctions have 20 percent of its victims who range between 18-55 years of age with one third made up of women.  It is reported that the vast majority of those individuals were sexually active before their heart attack but not much was known as far as their sexual activity or function occurring after the event.

A study out of the University of Chicago wanted to find out patterns of sexual activity and function and to identify indicators of a reduction in sexual activity in the year following when a person had a heart attack. 

Using data from the Variation in Recovery: Role of Gender on Outcomes of Young AMI Patients (VIRGO) study, it researches how recovery from a heart attack varies between men and women in the year following. From 2008-2012 the VIRGO study used data on sexual activity of 2,802 patients between the ages of 18-55 of which 1,889 or 67.4 percent were women who had had heart attacks from 103 U. S. hospitals and 24 Spanish hospitals.  Each patient was assessed at the time of entry to the study which was baseline and then one month later and a final time one year later.

The results showed that men (64 percent) were more likely than women (55 percent) to have resumed sexual activity at one month.  Within a year after having had a heart attack, 94 percent of men and 91 percent of women had resumed sexual activity.

Women – 42 percent versus 31 percent of men– also developed at least one or more sexual problems during the year following a heart attack.  What was reported by women to be the most common sexual problems were lack of interest (40 percent), trouble lubricating (22 percent), and difficulty breathing (20 percent). 

For men, they reported erectile dysfunction (22 percent) as the most common problem, lack of interest (19 percent), and anxiety about sexual performance (16 percent) to be the issues they faced in the year following a heart attack.

Another finding from the study was women were less likely (27 percent) compared to men (41 percent) to have received counseling from their physician as to when it was safe to resume sexual activity.

The study hopes to encourage physicians to address sexual function with both men and women even if the patient does not bring it up on their own.  By researching this area of sexual functioning following a heart attack, it can lead to better, more tailored counseling for each individual patient to assess their risk of losing sexual activity or functioning and how to keep that from happening.