How many times have you watched a movie in which someone drops dead of a heart attack during sex? It is a popular plot device in Hollywood; however, according to a new report from the American Heart Association (AHA), it is highly unrealistic – unless you are a man who is cheating on his wife. A new paper from the AHA, published in the journal Circulation, found that sex is totally safe for the majority of patients being treated for heart disease, except in cases were sex is being enjoyed by a man who is cheating on his wife. The research revealed that sex was responsible for less than one per cent of heart attacks and less than 5 per cent of cases involving chest pain. However, sex that involved cheating on a spouse increased the risk of cardiac arrest for men.
The point of the study was not to underscore the higher risks of sex in extramarital affairs; rather, it was to show patients with heart problems that sex is safe for them and that part of returning to their normal way of life includes resuming their sex lives. Peter Alagona, co-director of the Penn State Hershey Heart and Vascular Institute’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program in Pennsylvania, said:
“It’s good physically, it’s good emotionally. What we need to encourage people to use is common sense.”
Glenn Levine, a professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the lead author of the AHA paper, explains that in terms of exertion, sex is equivalent to climbing two flights of stairs. If you can do that, you are not at risk while having sex. Levine stated that many heart patients don’t think twice about climbing stairs, yet many worry that sexual activity will cause another heart attack, or even sudden death. The purpose of the report was to establish the risks involved with sex and fill the gap in knowledge which appears to exist among heart patients. Chicago cardiologist Dr. Dan Fintel, a professor of medicine at Northwestern University, said he routinely offers heart patients a sex talk before they are discharged from hospital, knowing that it is likely to be on their minds. He says:
“Resuming sexual activity is safe and emotionally part of the healing process, with a few caveats.”
He relates that those caveats elicit a few chuckles from the audience when he tells them that they include no philandering, since there is evidence that cheating causes extra stress.
Research into autopsy reports led to the findings related to extramarital sex. Autopsy reports of 5,559 cases of sudden death showed that 0.6 per cent occurred during sexual intercourse; out of those, 82 per cent to 93 per cent were men engaging in extramarital sex, usually with a younger partner and following excessive food and alcohol consumption. We all know that affairs are a risky business, but this is something else.
Levine warns against emphasizing these findings on the grounds that the autopsy reports involved ‘a very modest number of patients’ making it difficult to gauge the extent to which an extramarital affair relationship increases risk. He said:
“I would not blow this too out of context. Without being sarcastic, I really can state that I have not ever had a patient who asked me about the cardiac risks of an extramarital affair.”
Levine must be dealing with less human patients than Fintel, then. While the researchers of the paper are quick to note the limitations of the study’s sample size, the number is significant enough to serve as a worthwhile warning.