Sex And Heart Disease
Sexual activity is an important part of people's lives, including both older adults and patients with heart disease. Many of the problems that give rise to heart disease, such as diabetes, hypertension, and various medications, can also give rise to sexual dysfunction. More commonly, patients and their partners may be afraid to engage in sexual intercourse for fear it may trigger a heart attack, though the risk of precipitating a heart attack or heart disease during intercourse is quite low.
The first question to be asked is whether the heart can cope with the physical exertion involved. A middle-aged person uses approximately four to five METS (metabolic equivalent units) during intercourse. This is the equivalent of a brisk walk or of climbing two to three flights of stairs. An exercise stress test is measured in METS, and this is an easy way to determine if the work of intercourse will bring on angina. In general, it is safe to resume sexual activity two to three weeks after a heart attack. While elderly patients likely exert less energy than younger individuals during sexual intercourse, if symptoms such as angina or excessive shortness of breath develop, then the activity should be stopped and, if necessary, nitroglycerin may be used to relieve angina.
The question of patients with heart disease using Viagra raises some serious concerns. While Viagra is a highly effective and popular medication to treat erectile dysfunction, it is contraindicated in patients who are using nitroglycerin. This includes patients who are using nitroglycerin pills or patches, or people who need to use nitroglycerin by spray or pills under the tongue to relieve angina. Viagra and nitroglycerin taken together may cause significant and severe drops in blood pressure. This effect may occur up to twenty-four hours after using Viagra, and the potential exists for these effects occurring even later in elderly patients.
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