Is it safe to have sex if I have heart failure?

Answer From Rekha Mankad, M.D.

If you're living with heart failure, you know that physical activity may leave you feeling fatigued or short of breath. If exercise makes you feel winded you might wonder — is it safe to have sex?

Sex is typically a moderate form of exercise — it generally falls into the same activity level as climbing two or three flights of stairs. So, it's not uncommon for those with heart failure to worry that having sex might further harm the heart, especially after surgery or a procedure. Also, heart failure medications may dampen the sex drive or cause unpleasant sexual side effects. An estimated 60 to 87 percent of those living with heart failure say they have sexual problems.

However, remaining sexually active is important for maintaining a healthy quality of life and to stay connected to your partner. How do you do that with heart failure? Stick with your cardiac rehabilitation plan. The American Heart Association says cardiac rehab and exercise can cut the risk of sex-related complications in those with heart failure. Research suggests that participating in an exercise program helps boost oxygen levels and reduces your heart rate during sexual activity, making it safer and more pleasant.

Keep in mind that sexual intercourse may not be safe for your stage and type of heart failure, but kissing and touching is okay. For example, you're considered high-risk for complications during sexual activity if you have New York Heart Association class IV heart failure or if you had heart surgery within the last one to two weeks.

So skip sex until your doctor says you are stable. Start with kissing and touching. Take all your medications as directed, and don't skip meds for fear of sexual side effects. Don't try over-the-counter herbs or supplements to boost your sex drive, either. If you have any sexual difficulties, don't be shy about talking to your cardiologist or other doctor. The American Heart Association and the European Society of Cardiology want everyone with the disease to be screened for sexual problems and offered counseling as part of their rehabilitation. Some evidence suggests that five hours of sex therapy can help you return to sexual activity more quickly after a cardiac event.


Rekha Mankad, M.D.

July 27, 2018 See more Expert Answers

See also

  1. 5 Years on a VAD
  2. Arteriovenous fistula
  3. Atrioventricular canal defect
  4. Automated external defibrillators: Do you need an AED?
  5. Blood tests for heart disease
  6. Heart Failure
  7. New Route to the Heart
  8. Screenings of newborns and athletes for genetic heart disease
  9. Selection of left ventricular assist devices (LVAD) — Which device is appropriate for you?
  10. Supraventricular Tachycardia
  11. Transplant Advances
  12. Ventricular Assist Devices as Bridge to Heart Transplantation: Therapy Options
  13. Ventricular Assist Devices as Bridge to Heart Transplantation: What You Need to Know
  14. Ventricular Assist Devices for Lifetime Use
  15. Cardiac amyloidosis — Treatment options
  16. Cardiac amyloidosis — What is amyloid and how does it affect the heart
  17. Cardiac asthma: What causes it?
  18. Cardiac catheterization
  19. Cardiac sarcoidosis
  20. Chest X-rays
  21. Coronary angiogram
  22. Coronary bypass surgery
  23. Cough
  24. CT scan
  25. CT scans: Are they safe?
  26. Dick's Story
  27. Dyspnea
  28. ECG at Mayo Clinic
  29. Echocardiogram
  30. Ejection fraction: What does it measure?
  31. Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  32. External Drive: Charles' Artificial Heart
  33. Fatigue
  34. Flu shots and heart disease
  35. Foot swelling during air travel: A concern?
  36. Hand swelling during exercise: A concern?
  37. Heart arrhythmias
  38. Heart failure
  39. Heart transplant
  40. Hemochromatosis
  41. Holiday Heart
  42. Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs)
  43. MRI
  44. Nausea and vomiting
  45. Infographic: Organ Donation Donate Life
  46. Organ transplant in highly sensitized patients
  47. Pacemaker
  48. Palliative care
  49. Palliative care
  50. Pseudoaneurysm: What causes it?
  51. Seeing Inside the Heart with MRI
  52. Shortness of breath
  53. Stem cells: What they are and what they do
  54. Stress test
  55. Symptom Checker
  56. Tachycardia
  57. The Last Brother's Heart
  58. Triathlete Transplant
  59. Ventricular assist device
  60. Video: Heart and circulatory system
  61. MRI
  62. Heart failure action plan
  63. Wheezing