American Heart Association advises health care providers on counseling heart patients about sexual activity

07/29/2013 3:09 PM

07/29/2013 3:13 PM

In a recommendation released today, the American Heart Association and the European Society of Cardiology urge health care providers to counsel heart and stroke patients on resuming sexual activity, according to a news release.

“Our hope is to provide guidance for health care providers and to help make sure sexual counseling is a part of routine practice,” said Elaine Steinke, lead author of the recommendation and professor of nursing at Wichita State University.

The statement is the first to provide “how to” information about resuming sexual activities and applies to patients who have had heart attacks, transplants, strokes or implanted heart devices, or who have other heart conditions.

“Often patients and partners have concerns not only when, but, ‘How do I go about doing this?’ That really was the direction this consensus statement takes,” Steinke said. She said the recommendations include common strategies that an “individual can use in resuming sexual activity,” given their specific cardiovascular condition and diagnosis.

For instance, the recommendation is that all cardiac patients should be well rested and avoid heavy meals and alcohol prior to sexual activity, Steinke said.

Both patients and providers can be embarrassed to talk about sexual counseling after an event such as a heart attack, Steinke said, but it’s an important part of a person’s health.

One way for providers to bring it up is to put it into the context of physical exercise, she said.

Patients with heart failure may need to have exercise testing to make sure the activity is safe, Steinke said, and physicians should counsel patients on activities besides intercourse they can safely participate in.

“Heart failure patients often have breathing problems, so they may need to adapt to be in an upright or seated position so as not to be out of breath,” she said.

She recommends patients ask their provider questions like whether or not their medication will have an impact on the activity and what the warning signs are if there is an emergency. She also stressed the importance of communication between partners.

The authors have been working on writing the recommendation for about a year and half, Steinke said.

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