- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2017

Doctors are happy to announce that sex is not a risk factor for sudden cardiac arrest, a study says.

“I would say it’s basically happy news. It’s very reassuring,” said Dr. Sumeet Chugh, the study’s lead author and associate director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles.

The question about whether it’s safe to engage in sexual activity often comes up in talks with people with a history of heart disease, Dr. Chugh said.

“It’s an awkward question to ask … and we really didn’t have data to talk to them,” he said. “So I think now we have some data to discuss with them.”

The study, which was published Sunday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, concludes that less than 1 percent of sudden cardiac arrests occur during sex or within an hour of sexual activity.

In a 14-year period, only 34 of more than 4,500 cases of sudden cardiac arrest occurred during or just after sexual activity, the study found. Those cases involved 32 men and two women.

The data were taken from the Oregon Sudden Unexpected Death Study from 2002 to 2016. The results will be presented this week at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions conference in Anaheim, California.

“It’s a very well done study,” said Dr. Donna Arnett, dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky and a past president of the American Heart Association.

“It’s a question that concerns many patients with cardiovascular disease, whether or not they can engage in sexual activity safely, so it addresses a very important question,” said Dr. Arnett, who wasn’t involved in the study. “It’s a really, really small risk is the bottom line.”

Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when an electrical impulse in the heart goes haywire, causing it to instantly stop pumping blood throughout the body. It’s more devastating than a heart attack because it comes on suddenly, and at least 90 percent of victims die within a few minutes.

It affects about 350,000 people a year.

The researchers found that only 1 out of 100 cases of sudden cardiac arrest occurred during sex for men. It was even less for women, with the heart stopping during sex in 1 out of 1,000 cases.

Other differences in risk factors include race, age and cardiovascular health. For example, black men represented 19 percent of the 34 cases of cardiac arrest during sex. The average age of a patient whose heart stopped during sex was 60.3 years, compared with 65.2 years in other instances.

Risk factors lean more toward underlying heart conditions than physical activity, Dr. Chugh said, noting a separate study that found only 5 percent of sudden cardiac arrests occurred because of physical activity.

“[Physical activities] decrease the risk — to be honest — of everything, so physical activity is great,” he said. “But the nonhabitually [active people], in that small time interval when they’re exercising vigorously, their risk goes up a lot.”

Shoveling snow, for example, has been shown to cause sudden cardiac arrest in people who are not habitually active and has prompted warnings for sedentary people before taking on strenuous activity in cold weather.

Dr. Arnett further promotes physical activity to improve overall heart and cardiovascular health.

“Engaging in regular physical activity is a definite way to improve your risk of not having a cardiac arrest,” she said.

Underlying heart conditions, however, are much more likely to contribute to cardiac arrest. In the study, patients who suffered arrest during sex had higher rates of ventricular fibrillation — an irregular heartbeat — and tachycardia, a faster-than-normal heart rate.

Cardiac arrests happen so suddenly that professionals advise that CPR be administered immediately. Patients suffering cardiac arrest during sex have a witness; less than a third perform CPR. This rate, however, is higher than that for bystanders performing CPR on people who collapse in public — 27 percent.

“If it does happen, then it’s a good idea to be aware and educated about CPR and not to hesitate to do CPR — even though it’s difficult [and] it’s an emotionally devastating situation,” Dr. Chugh said.

Dr. Arnett echoed the importance of learning CPR and being prepared to step in when a person needs it most.

“I think people need to not only learn CPR, but they need to get into action when they witness a cardiac arrest,” she said. “It’s easy. It’s very easy to administer, and people should undergo the training.”

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