Love can cause heartache and even heart break. These are mere figures of speech, but what about people who have had a heart attack or heart surgery? Can someone with heart disease safely have sex?

What Exactly Is Heart Disease?

Imagine the heart as a pump. It receives incoming blood from the whole body through the veins, then pumps it back out to the body through the arteries. It regulates its pumping action with a complex arrangement of electrical controllers called pacemakers. The term heart disease can encompass any condition that affects the blood vessels, the pacemakers, or the heart muscle itself.

A significant component of heart disease is atherosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries. When arteries become clogged with plaque, caused by the build-up of fatty materials, blood flows less freely and the tissues supplied by those arteries can die from lack of oxygen and other nutrients. When the tissue being supplied is the heart, the resulting condition is known as a myocardial infarction, or heart attack.

The survival and well-being of heart attack patients depends on how much of the heart muscle dies. The prognosis for people who have had a heart attack is drastically improved over previous decades, due primarily to advances in medicine, such as bypass surgery, angioplasty, and coronary stenting.

Resuming Sex After a Heart Attack

You may be able to have sex again 3-4 weeks after a heart attack, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Talk to your doctor about a time line that is best for you for resuming sexual activity. Once you are ready to have sex again, keep these things in mind:

  • Obtain clearance from your doctor.
  • Avoid sexual intercourse for at least 1-3 hours after eating or consuming alcohol.
  • Sex should not be stressful. Pick a time when you and your partner are relaxed.
  • Select a place that is peaceful and free of interruptions.
  • The room should be temperature-controlled and well-ventilated.
  • Pay attention to your partner.
  • Avoid excessive physical demands.
  • Maintain a sense of humor.
  • Watch for cardiac symptoms (fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath).
  • If you are taking medications, take them correctly.
  • Seek medical advice when necessary.

In The Heart Attack Handbook, Dr. Joseph Alpert has additional recommendations for making sex just as enjoyable as it was before your heart attack.

  • Allow ample time for foreplay.
  • Consider just being intimate without intercourse at first, until both partners are comfortable.
  • Start with positions that require less energy, such as with your partner on top or the side (lateral) position.
  • Reduce sexual activity if you develop a rapid heart rate or rapid breathing lasting longer than 30 minutes after sex. Also reduce sexual activity if you experience severe fatigue or insomnia the day after sex.
  • For those heart patients without partners, returning to masturbation is the same as sex for those with partners.

Having a heart attack and/or bypass or other interventional surgery can be a very traumatic experience. But with time, patience, and an understanding and sympathetic partner, there is no reason why people with heart conditions can't enjoy satisfying love lives.