Many people with heart and lung disease worry about the possibility of producing a heart attack or severe shortness of breath while having sex. Fortunately a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that the heart attack risk in people with a previous heart attack was extremely low during the hours immediately before, during, or after sexual intercourse. Of course, this study dealt only with heart attack, but it has been my experience in talking with literally thousands of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease over the years, that an attack of sudden shortness of breath that is serious enough to require urgent treatment is also rare. Those patients who require bronchodilators have learned to take the medication well in advance of a romantic adventure with their loved one. Patients receiving oxygen commonly turn up the oxygen flow at least one liter per minute higher than their usual oxygen requirement. A mild increase in shortness of breath is not dangerous. It is a normal response to a normal increase in energy expenditure.
Extensive statistics show that the chance of a heart attack for a healthy individual during sex is extremely low, i.e., approximately one chance in a million. That’s about the same chance as being struck by lightening. All but the most cynical would agree that sex is a lot better than being struck by lightening. Thus, let’s have a toast to Venus and to heck with Thor.
Thomas Petty, MD