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Sex After Heart Attack? Doc's OK May Be Key

FRIDAY, May 11 (HealthDay News) -- Heart attack survivors are more likely to resume their sex lives if doctors reassure them it's safe, a new study shows.

University of Chicago Medicine researchers surveyed nearly 1,900 heart attack survivors for the study. Among patients who were sexually active before their heart attack, those who received counseling about sex before they were discharged from the hospital were 1.5 times more likely to carry on with their sex lives.

Patients who did not receive medical advice about their sex lives often either unnecessarily delayed their return to sexual activity or refrained from sex altogether.

The study also found that less than half of male patients and about one-third of female patients recalled receiving pre-discharge instructions on when to return safely to sexual activity.

One year after being discharged from the hospital, only 41 percent of men and 24 percent of women said they'd had a discussion with their doctor about sex since their heart attack.

The findings, published in the May 10 issue of the American Journal of Cardiology, show the need for doctors to regard sex as an important part of overall function, even after a life-threatening event such as a heart attack, said study author Dr. Stacy Tessler Lindau, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago Medicine.

"Doctors need to understand the significant role they play in helping [heart attack] patients avoid needless fear and worry about the risk of relapse or even death with return to sexual activity," Lindau said in a university news release.

"Receiving instructions prior to hospital discharge about resuming sex was a major predictor of whether patients resumed sexual activity in the year following [heart attack]," Lindau said. "For women, this was the only significant predictor. The discharging cardiologist has detailed knowledge of the patient's condition, has provided lifesaving care and is best positioned to advise on the safety of engaging in physical activity, including sex."

If heart attack survivors don't receive professional advice, they have to make their own, often incorrect, assumptions about the risks associated with sexual activity, Lindau said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians offers tips for recovering and staying well after a heart attack.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Chicago Medicine, news release, May 9, 2012

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