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Heart Failure and Sexual Activity

Topic Overview

Sex is part of a healthy life and is part of your quality of life. Most people with heart failure can still have an active sex life. If you have mild heart failure, your doctor will likely say that sex is safe for your heart. If you have more severe heart failure, your doctor will likely check your health to make sure sex is safe for you.1

If you or your partner is worried about having sex, talk with your doctor about your concerns. Your doctor or another health professional can give you support and advice.

How to make sex easier on your heart

Sex is like any activity that makes your heart work harder. So you can try things that make sex easier on your heart.

  • Be well rested before having sex.
  • Avoid sexual activity when:
    • It's very hot or humid outside.
    • You're under stress.
    • You've just had a meal.
  • Don't drink alcohol for at least 3 hours before sex.
  • Stop and rest if you have trouble breathing.
  • Stop if you feel lightheaded or have chest pain, palpitations, or a fast heartbeat.
  • Try other ways to be intimate that don't make your heart work so hard. These include hugging, cuddling, and kissing.

How to be safe

Tell your doctor if you're having symptoms, such as trouble breathing, when you have sex.

Talk with your doctor before trying an erection-enhancing medicine. If you take a nitrate medicine, do not take a medicine such as sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), or vardenafil (Levitra). Combining these medicines can cause a life-threatening drop in blood pressure.

Get help for problems

Unfortunately, many people with heart failure also have sexual problems. Your interest may drop, or you may have shortness of breath or other symptoms that limit your ability to have sex. Men may have erection problems. Women may have sexual problems too.

Talk with your doctor. Counseling with a health professional can help you resume sexual activity.

You can get help for erection problems or other sexual troubles.

Related Information

References

Citations

  1. Levine GN, et al. (2012). Sexual activity and cardiovascular disease: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 125(8): 1058–1072.

Other Works Consulted

  • Levine GN, et al. (2012). Sexual activity and cardiovascular disease: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 125(8): 1058–1072.
  • Steinke EE, et al. (2013). Sexual counseling for individuals with cardiovascular disease and their partners: A consensus document from the American Heart Association and the ESC Council on Cardiovascular Nursing and Allied Professionals (CCNAP). Circulation. Published online July 29, 2013 (doi:10.1161/CIR.0b013e31829c2e53).

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Stephen Fort, MD, MRCP, FRCPC - Interventional Cardiology
Last Revised November 4, 2013

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