Young Heart Attack Survivors Face Sexual Problems and Early Death

Young Heart Attack Survivors Face Sexual Problems and Early Death
When a younger man like this survives a heart attack, he may still face sexual problems or death. Photo courtesy

When younger men and women have a heart attack, surviving is not the only problem they may face. Two recent studies have found that heart attack survivors under the age of 50 are still at risk of early death from heart disease and may experience problems like erectile difficulties or loss of interest in sex.

The first study comes from Morten Schmidt, M.D., Ph.D. of the Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, along with other researchers. The researchers published their findings in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes August 30th. Since 1980, the risk of dying within 30 days of a heart attack has declined from 12.5 percent to 3.2 percent, so the researchers looked at the long-term health of heart attack survivors.

For their study, the researchers compared 21,693 heart attack survivors under the age of 50 to 216,930 other people, following up with the participants for an average of 11 years. Most of the survivors were between the ages of 40 and 49, although a few were under the age of 30. Since 1980, the risk of dying within a year of a heart attack has dropped from 24.2 percent to 8.9 percent, but this study found that the young heart attack survivors were 1.89 times more likely to die than those who did not have a heart attack. The leading causes of death among heart attack survivors were heart disease and other diseases related to smoking. Women only made up about a fifth of the heart attack survivors studied, but they were 3 times more likely to die within a year than the non-heart attack participants, while men were 1.7 more times likely than the non-heart attack participants to die within the year. The researchers are unsure of why women are much more likely to die than men.

Compared to the participants who did not have a heart attack, the heart attack survivors tended to have more risk factors for cardiovascular disease both before and after the event. This includes angina, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. Because of this, although they survived their initial heart attack, they were still at risk for later heart attack or other health problems.

The decline in heart attack deaths since the early 80s is partly due to improved medical treatment, but managing high cholesterol and high blood pressure along with a reduction in the number of patients who smoke have also contributed. The encouraging news is that patients who do survive an initial heart attack have the chance to improve their long-term survival. By quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and exercising, these survivors can improve their chance of living a long, healthy life.

Despite surviving their heart attack, many patients face sexual problems, according to another study. Stacy Tessler Lindau, M.D., M.A.P.P. from the University of Chicago along with other researchers published their findings in the online journal JAMA Cardiology August 31st. Using data from the Variation in Recovery: Role of Gender on Outcomes of Young AMI Patients (VIRGO) study, the researchers analyzed whether younger heart attack survivors faced challenges when it came to their sex life.

For the study, the researchers looked at data from 2,802 heart attack survivors under the age of 55 in the U.S. and Spain. The study participants gave the researchers information about their sex lives at one month and one year after their heart attack. It turns out that a month after a heart attack, 64 percent of sexually-active men had resumed their sex lives while only 55 percent of women had. A year after the heart attack, 94 percent of men and 91 percent of women had resumed their sex lives.

A year after their heart attack, 42 percent of women with no previous sexual problems reported that they had at least one incident, while 31 percent of men had a problem after no previous problems. While 55 percent of men reported having no sexual problems in the year after their heart attack, only 40 percent of women reported they were problem-free. The most common sexual problem was lack of interest, at 40 percent, with 22 percent of women having problems with lubrication and 22 percent of men having erectile difficulties. The survivors with diabetes or high stress were more likely to miss out on sexual activity in the year after their heart attack.

Despite facing these sexual issues after their heart attack, 41 percent of men and only 27 percent of women spoke to a doctor about their problems. The heart attack survivors that avoided talking to their doctor were more likely to delay getting back to their sex life.

It seems that women faced more sexual problems after a heart attack than men, but they were also less likely to seek help from their doctor. The researchers suggest that if both men and women spoke to their doctor for help, they could improve their chances of getting back to a healthy sex life after a heart attack.

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