Public Release: 

Sexual function problems occur after heart attack, disparities exist between men and women

University of Chicago Medical Center

New research from the University of Chicago investigates what happens to men's and women's sexual function and relationships after a heart attack in an effort to help clinicians develop better care guidelines for patients. The study, published in JAMA Cardiology, shows impaired sexual function or new problems are common after heart attacks. They occur at the same rate as a loss of general physical function and at a higher rate than the incidence of depression after heart attack, but rarely do health care providers address these issues - particularly with women.

"Too often physicians and researchers are too embarrassed to ask questions about sexual health, and yet these issues are important to many people," said Harlan Krumholz, MD, professor of medicine at Yale and director of the Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation, one of the authors in charge of the study. "We need to concern ourselves with gaining knowledge about how to help our patients achieve a high quality of life in all aspects of their lives."

The data show that if a physician talks to the patient about sexual health and function after a heart attack the patient is more likely to resume sex. However, women were less likely to be counseled by physicians on what to expect and more likely to have problems with sexual function as they recover. More than half of women (59%) and less than half (46%) of men reported sexual function problems in the year after a heart attack.

"The next step is to design the optimal intervention to improve sexual function outcomes after heart attack for men and women," said Stacy Tessler Lindau, MD, associate professor of obstetrics/gynecology and medicine-geriatrics at the University of Chicago, who authored the research. "The rehabilitation phase begins with the cardiologist counseling the patient about her or his functional capabilities and what she or he can expect, including physical, psychological, and sexual function."

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