[Paleopsych] NYT: Really?: The Claim: Sex Can Set Off a Heart Attack

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Thu Jan 6 15:03:41 UTC 2005

Really?: The Claim: Sex Can Set Off a Heart Attack
NYT November 16, 2004

THE FACTS Rumors flew in 1979 when Nelson A. Rockefeller
died of a heart attack in circumstances described by his
speechwriter as "undeniably intimate." But the notion that
sexual activity can touch off a heart attack has been
around for some time.

Experts say the belief that physical exertion in the
bedroom places strain on the heart prompts many heart
patients to limit their sexual activities or to abstain

While there appears to be some truth to the claim, research
suggests that it is largely exaggerated.

In 1996, a team of scientists at Harvard conducted a study
of more than 800 heart attack survivors around the country.
Their findings, published in The Journal of the American
Medical Association, suggested that the chance of sex
causing a heart attack was about two 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 cardiovascular

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 exercise
increased. People who exercised the most had virtually no

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 Dr.
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."

THE BOTTOM LINE Sexual activity can set off a heart attack,
although the risk is extremely low.

scitimes at nytimes.com

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