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Heart-stopping sex? It's rare, science shows

Heart-stopping sex is pretty uncommon, scientists say – and that’s a good thing for those who want to keep their tickers in top shape.

In a memorable scene in a 2004 episode of the show “House, M.D.,” Dr. Alison Cameron describes the supposed dangers of sex, including constricted arteries, racing heartbeat and rising blood pressure. “If God hadn’t made it unbelievably fun, the human race would’ve died out eons ago,” she tells her colleagues.

But the fictional description may not be completely accurate, it seems. Sex is rarely a triggering factor in sudden cardiac arrest, according to new preliminary research by Dr. Sumeet Chugh and his colleague Dr. Aapo Aro.

The doctors, both from Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, looked at more than 4,500 cases of sudden cardiac arrest that occurred in adults between 2002 and 2015 in the northwestern United States. Out of those cases, they found only 34 that occurred during or within an hour after sex.

In both groups, heart disease and the use of heart medication was common, Chugh and Aro said.

In the rare cases in which cardiac arrest does occur during sex, most of the victims are men – a full 94 percent, to be exact. Or, to look at the statistics another way, about 1 in 100 cases of sudden arrest in men are associated with sex, while in women it’s more like 1 in 1,000.

But the most worrying of their discoveries about literally heart-stopping sex is that bystanders performed CPR in only one-third of sex-related cardiac arrest, even though partners witnessed each heart attack.

While the research adds to conversations about sexual activity and safety between doctors and their patients, it also emphasizes the need for better education about CPR. The public needs to be informed not just about how to perform CPR, but also that it can be essential regardless of where or when a heart attack occurs.

The research was funded by grants from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute secured by Dr. Chugh. The findings were presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2017.

By Kyla Cathey, staff writer

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