A study presented at the American Heart Association (AHA)’s Scientific Sessions found that the intimate partners of people with heart defibrillators are more concerned than the patients about resuming sexual activity immediately after the device is implanted.
The researchers asked 105 sexually active couples questions when they left the hospital after ICD implant procedures, and again three months later. They asked the participants (average age 65 for patients and 63 for partners) eight questions which required them to rank their concerns about sexual activity after an ICD.
Participants’ concerns included lacking interest in sex, fearing ICD discharge during sex, and worry about cardiac arrest happening during sex due to device malfunction. Concern levels for both dropped by three months. For partners, there was a nearly 50% drop in fears that the patient’s heart would stop, and about a two-thirds decline in fears that the ICD would accidentally fire off a cardiac shock. Patients experienced a similar reduction in concerns after 3 months; with the largest reduction being in the area of fear of an ICD shock during sex.
“We can’t just focus on the patient,” says Cynthia Dougherty, a professor of nursing at the University of Washington School Of Nursing in Seattle, Washington. “An intimate partner’s level of comfort is also important for recovery, and their concerns warrant attention from healthcare providers.”
Heart patients and their partners’ sexual concerns often aren’t addressed by the provider, which affects recovery, emotional health and intimate relationships. “This is an issue that patients are often reluctant to discuss and sometimes providers don’t initiate these discussions as part of routine practice,” she says. “But it shouldn’t be taboo subject.”