Blog: Sexual Activity in the Setting of Cardiovascular Disease

For many people, sex is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Cardiac patients often worry about their sexual health and their ability to engage in sexual activity.  Concerns about sexual health can affect cardiac patients as well as their partners. These concerns can lead to anxiety, depression, and emotional distress.

Other factors that can lead to sexual problems include:

  • Lack of physical activity
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor diet
  • Stress

One of the most common concerns that cardiac patients and their partners have about sex is whether or not it is safe to engage in sexual activity. As far as your heart is concerned, sex is equivalent to moderate exercise. If you are able to carry out physical activities such as walking at a quick pace or walking up a few flights of stairs it is safe to have sex. However, you should always consult with your doctor before engaging in any physical activities.

Despite their concerns, many patients do not feel comfortable speaking to their doctors about sexual activity. Your doctor can play an important role in determining when it is safe to resume sexual activity and to what extent. Your doctor understands that intimacy and sex are important aspects of your life and are accustomed to discussing these issues. In addition to speaking to your doctor, communicating your concerns to your partner is just as important. Like other problems that may occur in a relationship, dealing with this issue together will help make the process easier.

Sex and cardiac patients FAQ

What happens to my heart during sex?

Your heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure increase. However, these increases are slight and remain at safe levels.

Is sex safe for my heart?

Sex is equivalent to moderate exercise. If you are able to carry out physical activities such as walking at a quick pace or walking up a few flights of stairs it is safe to have sex. However, you should always consult with your doctor before engaging in any physical activities.

Can I have a heart attack while having sex?

Having a heart attack during sex is extremely rare. In fact, less than 1% of heart attacks happen during sex.

I have an ICD. Can I receive a shock during sex? What about my partner?

Having sex will not lead to a shock from an ICD. If you are shocked, it will not affect your partner in any way.

My partner is concerned about how sex may affect my heart? How can I alleviate their concerns?

The best thing to do is speak to your doctor about you and your partner’s concerns. You may want to bring your partner with you so they can speak to the doctor as well.

Are certain sexual positions or activities safer than others?

There are no sexual positions or activities that are safer or more dangerous than others.

It has been a long time since I had sex. What can my partner and I do to begin having sex again?

Communication is extremely important. Talk with your partner about your needs and concerns. A good approach to resuming sexual activity is to relax and take your time.

I am unable to have intercourse at this time due to my health. What other forms of intimacy can I share with my partner?

Intercourse is one of many ways to be intimate with your partner. Kissing, hugging, snuggling, and holding hands are just a few ways that couples can be physically intimate with one another. Open communication with your partner will help to ensure that you engage in activities that will be enjoyable and fulfilling for both of you.


Reference: Rosen, Lindsey., Cahill, John M., McCammon, Susan L., & Sears, Samuel F. (2014) Sexual Health in Patients With Cardiovascular Disease. Circulation. 129, e313-e316.

Article by: Yvone Siu, RN

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