Sex and heart attack risk: Study

According to a study published March 23/30 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, sexual intercourse can trigger dangerous cardiac events and sudden heart attacks. In the two hours after sex, the chances of having a heart attack are dramatically higher than normal, warned the study from two researchers associated with the Tufts University Medical Center in Boston.

Jessica Paulus an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard School of Public Health and an adjunct assistant professor of epidemiology at Tufts Medical Center, in Boston and co-author Dr Issa Dahabreh a research associate with the Center for Clinical Evidence Synthesis, Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies at Tufts say, “The increased risk is three to five times higher ... compared to a time when you are not physically or sexually active.” They find that regardless of overall fitness, deadly heart attacks or other cardiac failures strike more often in the heat of physical activity or sex than at other times. Unsurprisingly, people with less active sex lives or infrequent exercisers showed the highest risk for problems during-and-after periods of heavy sweating, Dahabreh said. According to Paulus, “There's a temptation to think of sex as only a form of physical activity, but we recognize there have also been studies of emotional triggers… Recognizing that sex is a combination of the emotional and the physical, it could actually be a mixture of other mechanisms.”

For this study the authors took the weighted average of 14 other studies to determine that people who engaged in "episodic" sexual activity had a 2.7 times higher risk for a heart attack while sporadic physical activity raised the risk 3.5-fold. However the risk falls after two hours say researchers. Repeat the processes a few more times and you may build up a level of heart-healthy endurance, the authors add. But couples should build the frequency and intensity of sex slowly over time say researchers.

“The actual incidence is extremely small. You're talking two-to-three events per 10,000 patient-years. That's very, very small,” said Dr. Christopher Cove, an associate professor of medicine and assistant director of the cardiac catheterization lab at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “It's important to not lose sight of the message that exercise is the fountain of youth. This should not detract from that kind of thinking,” said Dr. Robert Ostfeld, associate professor of clinical medicine at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “The take-home message is that if you have not done much of any physical activity for a long period of time you should not go out and run a marathon tomorrow but build up more gradually, and that [once you've worked up to it] you should only exercise on the days you brush your teeth, which is hopefully every day,” Ostfeld advised. Cardiologist David Prior, who works with the Heart Foundation and St Vincent's Hospital, also said the study reinforced the benefits of exercise to maintain a healthy heart. “'This study shows that the risk goes down with regular activity and that is what is behind the Heart Foundation's recommendation that people should be exercising for about 30 minutes five times per week,”' he said.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

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Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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