Scottsdale, Arizona - Are you worried about whether sex after an acute coronary syndrome, such as a heart attack or unstable angina, is safe? Experts agree that most people can safely return to sexual activity after recovering from a heart attack — as long as your heart disease is stabilized.

Heart attacks and chest pain caused by heart disease rarely occur during sexual activity because the activity tends to take a short amount of time.

When you can resume sexual activity will depend on your physical comfort, psychological readiness and previous sexual activity. Be sure to ask your doctor when it's safe to become sexually active. He or she might do a physical exam to determine the risk of heart complications. If you're not at low risk of heart complications, your doctor might recommend a test in which your heart rate is monitored while you exercise (exercise stress test) to evaluate your capacity to exercise and the development of any symptoms, such as heartbeat irregularities.

If you have unstable heart disease, your symptoms are severe or you experience cardiovascular symptoms caused by sexual activity, your doctor will recommend waiting to have sex until your condition is stable and better managed.

If your doctor says it's safe to resume sexual activity, he or she might also recommend taking steps to improve your readiness for sexual activity and lessen the possibility of a complication during sex, including:

  • Cardiac rehabilitation and exercise. Exercise training during cardiac rehabilitation, which provides education and counseling services to help you increase your physical fitness and improve your heart health, can increase the amount of exercise you can safely handle. Regular exercise is also linked with a decreased risk of heart attack triggered by sexual activity.
  • Sexual counseling for you and your partner. This type of therapy can help you and your partner deal with anxiety about sexual activity and have an open discussion about sexual concerns. A counselor also can share helpful advice for safely resuming sexual activity, such as making sure you're well-rested beforehand, avoiding unfamiliar surroundings and partners to minimize stress, avoiding heavy meals and alcohol beforehand, and using a sexual position that doesn't restrict breathing.

Keep in mind that some heart medications might affect sexual function. Be sure to ask your doctor if your medications might have any sexual side effects. If you resume sexual activity and begin having problems with sexual dysfunction, such as erectile dysfunction, talk to your doctor. Sexual dysfunction could also be related to heart disease, anxiety or depression. Don't skip taking medications for your heart because you're concerned they could impact your sex drive or function.