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 "Sex and Heart Attacks"

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Can Sex Cause a Heart Attack?

Rumors flew in 1979 when Nelson Rockefeller died of a heart attack in circumstances described by his speechwriter as "undeniably intimate."

But the notion that sex can cause a heart attack has been around for some time.

What the Experts Say

Experts say the belief that physical exertion in the bedroom placing strain on the heart prompts many heart patients to limit or abstain from sexual performance, let alone sexual activities. While there appears to be some truth to the claim, research suggests that it is largely exaggerated.

Harvard Studies

In 1996, a team of scientists at Harvard conducted a study of more than 800 heart attack survivors around the United States. Their findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggested that the chance of sex causing a heart attack was about 2 in a million, even in subjects who had already had one attack.

That is double the risk for healthy people in the hours after sexual intercourse, they said, but still no real cause for concern for most people with coronary heart disease.

The study did not look at the intensity of the sexual activity or whether the relations were extramarital. It found that the risk of suffering a heart attack brought on by sex dropped as the participants' amount of regular exercise increased. People who exercised the most had virtually no risk.

In 2001, a group of Swedish researchers who studied 699 heart attack survivors reported similar results, finding that the risk was small but highest among patients who were sedentary. Their study appeared in the journal Heart.

"While there is some truth to the mythology," said Murray Mittleman, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and an author of the 1996 study, "the absolute increase in risk is so small that for the vast majority of people it should be one less thing to worry about."

Paul Ellis

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