One of the most difficult things for female patients to discuss with their cardiologist is their sexual health. It is one of the most commonly missed topics at a cardiology visit, but it is a concern for women living with heart disease and for their partners.
Besides general embarrassment, generational values may get in the way of asking questions. But maintaining a happy and healthy sex life is important for your overall health and well-being, even if you live with cardiovascular disease.
Don't be afraid to discuss this with your doctor and, if your doctor is male, feel free to request the presence of a female nurse or other health practitioner during your discussion. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Get checked out. If you've experienced a cardiovascular event, ask your doctor to evaluate you to be sure it's safe to engage in sexual activity. This is particularly important if you have had a recent heart attack, heart failure, a complex heart rhythm condition or uncontrolled cardiac symptoms.
If your doctor gives you the green light, the relatively short duration of sexual activity won't generally put an undue stress on the heart. The rule of thumb: If you can walk up two flights of stairs, that level of exercise tolerance indicates it is safe to resume sexual activity. But always check with your doctor first.
Don't skip your meds. Do not stop taking your medications, even if you think they're affecting your sex drive. Instead, discuss this with your doctor and see if the medication needs to be adjusted or changed. If you have heart disease, hormone replacement and oral contraceptives should not be used, but topical estrogen cream has been used safely for vaginal dryness.
Build your energy back up. Getting serious about your cardiac rehabilitation and maintaining regular physical activity can give you the stamina you need to resume sexual activity.
Get your cuddles in. Touching and holding your partner can ease you back into physical intimacy in a comfortable, low-stress way.
Make a date. Planning time for intimacy can be a stepping stone back to regular sexual activity.
For more information, visit the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women