Cardiac rehabilitation programs might benefit patients’ sexual health, according to new research in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology.
Patients typically undergo cardiac rehabilitation after a cardiac event, such as a heart attack, angioplasty, or heart failure, with goals to strengthen cardiovascular health. Activities like exercise and education are guided by healthcare providers. Programs might also include components that address psychological and social issues.
Sexuality isn’t always covered in cardiac rehabilitation, although research suggests that cardiac patients would like to know more about sexual activity and heart health and often question when they can start having sex again after a cardiac event.
Cardiovascular disease can take a significant toll on sexual health. High blood pressure medications may have sexual side effects. Physical aspects like fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, erectile dysfunction, and poor vaginal lubrication might make sex difficult. Cardiac patients may also feel anxious or fearful about sexual activity.
The study was a review and meta-analysis of 14 studies published before January 24, 2018. The researchers focused specifically on outcomes related to sexual activity, including frequency and resumption of sexual relations, sexual function, and sexual satisfaction.
Eleven studies included data on both inpatient and outpatient services; three concerned inpatient programs only. Patients in all programs underwent physical exercise. Nine programs offered psychological therapies, with four focusing on sexual health.
The authors reported that cardiac rehabilitation “was shown to have an equivocal or positive effect on [reported sexual activity outcomes].”
The physical and psychological health benefits of cardiac rehabilitation might, in turn, improve sexual health, the authors added.
However, the researchers found “no clear association” between programs with psychological components and sexual health outcomes. In addition, those that had sexual health components had “nonsignificant findings” regarding sexual health outcomes.
“The association between [cardiac rehabilitation] and improved [sexual activity] outcomes cannot therefore be attributed to [sexual activity]-related components within a [cardiac rehabilitation] intervention,” they wrote.
It’s possible that programs’ sexual health components did not focus on the behavioral and social theories behind sexual function and cardiovascular disease, they said. Also, sexual health interventions for people without heart problems may not be appropriate for cardiac patients.
In the meantime, exercise-based programs tended to have better sexual health outcomes. The authors recommended that the National Institute of Health’s Obesity-Related Behavioral Intervention Trials (ORBIT) serve as a framework for future sexual health interventions in patients with cardiovascular disease.
American Heart Association
“What is Cardiac Rehabilitation?”
(Last reviewed: July 31, 2016)
Canadian Journal of Cardiology
Boothby, Célina A., BA(Hons), et al.
“The Effect of Cardiac Rehabilitation Attendance on Sexual Activity Outcomes in Cardiovascular Disease Patients: A Systematic Review”
(Full-text. December 2018)
“Another Plus to Cardiac Rehab: Better Sex”
(December 6, 2018)