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Study: Sex is safe for heart patients

CHICAGO -- Good news: Sex is safe for most heart patients. If you're healthy enough to walk up two flights of stairs without chest pain or gasping for breath, you can have a love life.

That advice from a leading doctors' group yesterday addresses one of the most pressing, least discussed issues facing survivors of heart attacks and other heart patients.

In its first science-based recommendations on the subject, the American Heart Association says having sex only slightly raises the chance for a heart attack. Surprisingly, despite the higher risk for a heart patient to have a second attack, there's no evidence they have more sex-related heart attacks than those without cardiac disease.

Many heart patients don't think twice about climbing stairs, yet they or their partners may worry that sexual activity will cause another attack, or even sudden death, said Dr. Glenn Levine, lead author of the report and a professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

The report says sex is something doctors should bring up with all heart patients. Yet few do because they're uncomfortable talking about it or they lack information, Levine said.

Heart patients should get a doctor's OK before engaging in sexual activity. Many may be advised to do cardiac rehab first: exercise while being monitored for heart symptoms, to improve heart strength and increase physical fitness. But the heart association says most eventually will be cleared to resume sexual activity.

Who's most at risk for sudden death related to sex? According to the report, it's married men in affairs, often with younger women in unfamiliar settings. Such circumstances can add stress that may increase risks, studies suggest.

The updated advice was released online yesterday in the journal Circulation.

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