Don’t worry, sex is unlikely to trigger cardiac arrest

Sex does not pose a significant risk for cardiac arrest, study finds.

Maria Cohut 
checked by Jasmin Collier
New research finds that sexual
intercourse is only rarely tied to cardiac arrest, a condition that causes the
heart to stop beating suddenly.
Cardiac arrest occurs when the
heart unexpectedly stops beating, due to faulty electrical signaling that
affects heart rate. Sudden cardiac arrest is, more often than not, fatal, and
it requires immediate specialized attention in order for the worst outcome to be
According to the latest data
available to the American Heart Association (AHA), in 2016, more than 350,000
people experienced a cardiac arrest outside of hospital, and, of these, only 12
percent survived.
The main factors that
influence susceptibility to cardiac arrest include age, biological sex, race,
and existing cardiovascular and metabolic conditions. Therefore, the National
Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute say that older men, black people, and
individuals with a diagnosis of coronary heart disease or diabetes are most at
Because of the poor outcome of
cardiac arrest, many who consider themselves at risk may try to avoid certain
activities, such as sex, believing that they render them more exposed.
But new research on which a
number of prestigious institutions — including Helsinki University Hospital in
Finland and the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA — collaborated
has revealed that it is unlikely that cardiac arrest will occur during sexual
The findings of the study,
whose first author was Dr. Aapo Aro — from Helsinki University Hospital — were
presented yesterday at the AHA’s Scientific Sessions 2017, held in Anaheim, CA.

Low incidence of cardiac
arrest due to sex

The researchers reviewed the
medical records of adults from a Northwestern community in the United States
between 2002 and 2015. In a population of around 1 million individuals, the
team identified 4,557 cases of cardiac arrest.
For a case of cardiac arrest
to be considered related to sexual activity, however, it was required to have
occurred either “during or within 1 hour of sexual intercourse.”
Of all the instances of
cardiac arrest that the researchers identified, only 34 (0.7 percent) were
considered “related to sexual activity,” with 18 cases having
occurred during sex and 15 cases immediately after.
Dr. Aro and team also noted
that the annual incidence of sex-related cardiac arrest (SEX-SCA) was only 0.28
per 100,000 cases.
In all, men were likelier to
experience cardiac arrest due to sexual activity: 1 percent of all cases among
male adults were related to intercourse. For women, only 0.1 percent of cardiac
arrest events were due to sex.
Despite low risk, CPR should
be promoted

Perhaps even more
surprisingly, people who experienced SEX-SCA were typically younger than
expected, at approximately 60 years. Also, African Americans were more exposed
than other groups, accounting for 19 percent of SEX-SCA cases.
There were no significant
differences in terms of cardiac disease history and medication across groups,
although ventricular fibrillation and tachycardia were more common than other
heart conditions.
Individuals who had cardiac
arrest during or straight after sex only received cardiopulmonary resuscitation
(CPR) from their partner in a third of all cases, despite the fact that it can
be life-saving.
Looking at the numbers, the
researchers concluded that the overall risk of cardiac arrest being triggered
by sexual activity was low, and even lower for women.
Still, while these results are reassuring,
Dr. Aro and colleagues highlight the necessity of educating the general
population about the importance of CPR, as well as knowing how to perform this
procedure correctly.
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.