Coronary heart disease is the most common serious medical condition in the Western world. It can affect anyone, but the major effects are more obvious as we grow older.
This is because the underlying cause – atherosclerosis – is a disease which develops very slowly, although it can be present from a very early age. Atherosclerosis is believed to be caused by a combination of several factors which include poor diet, lack of exercise, stress, smoking and obesity. Prevention should involve an examination of these in your current lifestyle.
With atherosclerosis (sometimes called arteriosclerosis) the arteries carrying the body’s blood supply are “furred up” by deposits which results in hardening and narrowing of the arteries. One effect of this can be when the arteries become too narrow and constrict blood flow during exertion with the resulting chest pain commonly known as angina. Another is when the blood flow to the heart is blocked completely, part of it dies or is damaged, causing what is known as a heart attack.
If you suffer from heart disease at all then it is advisable to become familiar with the symptoms of a heart attack so that you can take the appropriate action should you experience an attack. These symptoms include chest pain/pressure that may extend to the jaw or left arm, with sweating, palpitations and/or difficulty breathing.
Sexual ability depends to a considerable extent on the flow of blood to the male and female genitals. This flow of blood stimulates an erection in the male or female gential engorgement and anything which interferes with this process can affect sexual capacity.
Some degree of sexual difficulties (described in detail elsewhere on the site) can be experienced by many people with heart disease. If you experience pain during exertion, that too might interfere with your ability to relax during sexual activity.
You might also fear having a heart attack and decide against any sexual activity at all. Another factor may be medication you are taking for your condition as this can also affect sexual function.
You should always discuss these matters with your doctor and take advice on what you should or should not do with respect to any physical activity. This is always going to depend upon how far your heart disease has progressed.
Research has shown however that the risk factor is relatively small – it seems that we are all far more likely to have an attack on first wakening in the morning than while engaged in sex. This would seem to be the case even with the added stimulation of changing sexual partners or altering locations where sex takes place. If you are experiencing any of the difficulties outlined in the Sexual Difficulties section of this site, you might benefit from some of the treatments explained there. Again these should always be discussed with your doctor, as their use can be dependent upon your overall state of health.
If you are taking any form of nitrate medication for your condition, such as glyceryl trinitrate for angina, then also taking Viagra can be dangerous. If you do experience a heart attack and have been taking Viagra, it is important to tell medical staff so that it can be taken into account.
In general, if you are aware you have heart disease and still have an active sex life, it makes sense to be guided by what your body is telling you. Even with angina, if you are capable of, for example, walking briskly up and down two flights of stairs without any symptoms materialising, then sex is unlikely to trigger them. Many people with angina continue to have an active and enjoyable sex life. To reduce the chances of symptoms developing during sex the British Heart Foundation suggests waiting for at least two hours after a heavy meal or a hot bath.
Make sure the room is warm enough. It is also less likely you will experience symptoms if a good night’s sleep precedes the activity. It also suggests that if sex does tend to bring on an attack then taking medication beforehand will usually prevent this.
If you have experienced a heart attack, you may be less inclined to resume any sexual activity at all or may only partially resume activity. This can be as a result of the distress caused by the attack or from fear of inducing another attack.However, most survivors of a heart attack are able to return to a full and active life, including sexual activity. With successful cardiac rehabilitation, sexual activity may even be resumed within 3 to 6 weeks, depending upon your personal circumstances.