Symptoms of cardiovascular disease can conspire to diminish sexual pleasure. Faulty circulation reduces the amount of blood that reaches the sex organs. That can lead to difficulty getting or keeping an erection in men, and difficulty with arousal or lubrication in women. High blood pressure, diabetes, and depression can also interfere with sexual desire and response.
"Sexual activity and sexual function are major quality-of-life issues for both men and women with cardiovascular disease," says Dr. Joanne Foody, director of cardiovascular wellness services at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Medications used to treat cardiovascular disease can also lessen interest in sex or blunt orgasm. The solutions to those problems isn't stopping the medication, but asking a doctor to prescribe a different drug, or change the dose. "A healthy heart is the first prerequisite for an enjoyable sex life," says Dr. Foody.
The dread of having a heart attack or dying during intercourse looms large in the bedroom for many people with heart disease and their partners. Yet heart attacks rarely happen during sexual activity, partly because the exertion is usually short and not that physically stressful.
Working through the physical and emotional challenges of maintaining healthy intimacy in the atmosphere of heart disease can be tricky. Good partner-to-partner communication, as well as good communication with a trusted physician, is important steps to regaining a fulfilling love life.
Read the full-length article: "Matters of the heart: Sex and cardiovascular disease"
Also in the June 2014 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter:
- A sugary diet may harm the heart
- Who needs advanced cholesterol testing?
- Viral cardiomyopathy: heart failure caused by an infection
The Harvard Heart Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $20 per year. Subscribe at www.health.harvard.edu/heart or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).
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