How heart-stopping is sex, really?

Researchers determine whether it is a common trigger for cardiac arrest

Sexual activity is rarely associated with sudden cardiac arrest, but it’s men who are most at risk, and often they are not revived by their partner.

Research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2017 contradicts a TV and movie myth that having sex is a common trigger for myocardial infarction or cardiac arrest. In fact, it's about as dangerous as going for a walk.

The study of 4557 cases of cardiac arrest in American adults between 2002 and 2015 found:

  • Just 34 cases occurred during or within one hour of sexual intercourse.
  • Compared with others who had sudden cardiac arrest, people with an arrest associated with sexual intercourse were more likely to be male (94%).
  • One in 100 cases of cardiac arrest in men was associated with sexual activity, compared with one in 1000 cases in women.
  • Even though sudden cardiac arrest during sexual activity was witnessed by a partner, bystander CPR was performed in only one-third of the cases.

The findings, by a team from Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, Los Angeles, follow an older JAMA study that also shows sex is a relatively rare trigger of myocardial infarction or sudden death.

In an earlier article about sex and heart attack, a US cardiologist puts the absolute risk of heart attack for a 50-year-old man who exercises regularly at one chance in a million per hour.

Tripling that risk by engaging in sexual activity boosts it to three in one million per hour, and only for the two-hours during and afterwards.

For a heart attack survivor on the mend, the absolute risk of 10 in one million per hour increases to 30 in one million per hour, he says.