Now, more than ever, patients with heart disease are much longer but unfortunately their quality of life is not necessarily better. The latest medical advances save people’s lives but the care in the life after – after heart surgery, after discharge, rehabilitation, etc. – sometimes fall short.
Depression is a common aftermath of heart surgery and other cardiac events. A previous study showed that depression is commonly reported among young people aged 18 to 49 years old. They are tended to be female, of African American or Hispanic ethnicity.
I imagine that young people would be depressed since these years are the most active and productive years of their lives. Young women of reproductive age would be worried about their ability to raise their families or even able to start a family at all.
Depression has also been reported among the elderly but not to the extent observed in young people.
It is to be expected that one main cause of depression among young cardiac patients is sex, rather lack thereof. Sexual satisfaction is a part of life. And for the sexually active, the question of whether sex after a heart attack is still possible is another big factor that may contribute to depression and overall poor quality of life. Unfortunately, Hollywood has erroneously portrayed in films the horrors of having a heart attack in the act of sexual intercourse, scenes which can dampen the spirits of both the heart patient and his/her partner. A report presented at the European Cardiology Society last year stated that heart patients
…may have concerns about resuming sexual activity, feelings of sexual inadequacy, changes in sexual interest or changes in patterns of sexual activity…[They] are worried about chest symptoms during intercourse or even an acute ischemic event during sex. Many lack information about returning to sexual activity.
Researchers looked at the sexual satisfaction of 35 female with either non-STEMI or unstable angina and reported the following results::
- 49% resumed sexual activity within 12 weeks of hospital discharge.
- 35% reported being “sexually unsatisfied
- 41% were “mostly dissatisfied
- 24% were “somewhat dissatisfied
- 83% reported sexual desire to be lower compared to desire before the cardiac event.
But is there really room for sexual activity in a heart patient’s life?
Apparently, the answer is a resounding “Yes” but with some caveats.
According to this WedMD article “it is important to remember that sex is a workout. So doctors typically tell patients to abstain from sex after heart disease until they can withstand the cardiac workout.”
This means that people who are sedentary may have to abstain from postcardiac event sex until they are back on their feet and have passed their stress tests. What the doctors are saying is that if a patient can handle climbing the stairs or light jogging around the block, then he or she is ready to resume sexual activity.
But sometimes fear and the uncertainty can interfere even if the body is physically ready. Here are some tips that you may try to counteract this problem:
Do not blame yourself. It is not your fault and it is alright to feel frustrated. So stop blaming yourself. Erectile dysfunction is linked to heart disease. Some cardiac medications can interefere with sexual drive and performance. Nothing you can do or have done could change this. However, you have to do something about it and the first step is talk about it.
Talk to your doctor. I know that this topic maybe embarrassing for some people, depending on personality as well as cultural and religious backgrounds. However, your doctor is the best person who can tell you whether you are ready or not and what it takes to get you back into shape. Your doctor can give you all the information you need and can even refer you another professional if necessary.
Avoid self-medication. Be careful about performance enhancing and erectile dysfunction drugs. You see them advertised on the Internet all the time and your email Inbox is probably flooded by sales pitches on cheap Viagra and penis enlargement pills. However, these drugs may not be what they seem. They may be disguised in the form of dietary supplements, tea, herbal remedy, or energy drinks. Some of these substances can increase heart rates while others can interact with the other drugs you may already be taking. So before you resort to self-medication, talk to your doctor first. He would know which drug would be most appropriate and safest for you.
Talk to your partner. Be open about your fears and worries. For all you know, he or she also has some doubts and worries about the situation. Take him or her when you go talk to your doctor.
Give yourself time. Sex doesn’t have to start at day one. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time around after surgery. Take your time. Give your body and mind the time to heal and recover.
Go for counselling. Professional help may be necessary and your doctor can refer you to a psychologists or a sex counsellor. These health professionals may also prescribe drugs, devices, as well as therapies that can help.
Live a healthy lifestyle. You can’t live on sex alone. And your body should be fit to perform normal daily tasks, including sex. That is why you shouldn’t forget to maintain a healthy lifestyle which includes physical activity and the proper diet. Remember: a healthy and active sex life depends on an active and healthy lifestyle.
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