The risk of a heart attack from sex or orgasms is very low. For example:
- The risk of a heart attack in any given hour for a 50-year-old man at low risk of heart disease (e.g., without diabetes or previous angina) is one in one million.
- If he has been sexually active in the previous 2 hours, his risk of heart attack becomes 2 in one million.
- Following that 2 hour time period, the risk returns to one in one million.
- If a 50 year old man has high risk factors for heart disease (e.g., has already had a heart attack), his risk is still only about 10 in one million in any one hour.
- The risk will then increase to 20 in one million for 2 hours after a sexual encounter.
It is important to note that these risks, although very low, become insignificant if the man does regular physical exercise (for example, working out in a gym at least 3 times a week). Exercise is considered to be similarly protective in women, but there have not been enough studies including women who have been sexually active immediately prior to the heart attack to draw any conclusions about protection from regular exercise for women.
If there are concerns about cardiac safety, stress tests can be done. Exercise (or occasionally a medication) is prescribed to stress the heart to the same degree as sex would stress it, and the heart is monitored. This test can be ordered by the family doctor or specialist.
Rosemary Basson, MD
in association with the MediResource Clinical Team