In a perverse way, it may seem flattering to think that your partner’s heart might give out while having wild, passionate sex with you. It’s not impossible, a team of American cardiologists report on Monday, but you’re probably deluding yourself if you think that’s how your next steamy late-night tryst is going to end. In a sobering study, they announce that the risk of your heart stopping mid-sex is actually quite low.
In the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, they report that fewer than one percent of the 350,000 deaths by sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) that happen in the United States each year are linked to having sex.
“Over the years, we’ve had a fair bit of data on physical activity and how it’s related to sudden cardiac arrest, but no one had looked specifically at sexual activity,” said senior author Dr. Sumeet Chugh, associate director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles, in a statement.
“The risk is very small.”
The Oregon Sudden Unexpected Death Study, comprising about 4,500 unanticipated deaths in the state since 2002, provided the data for Chugh’s analysis on sudden cardiac arrests (SCA). About 34 of these deaths — just 0.7 percent — were linked to sexual activity. While the study showed that the chances of having an SCA in the middle of sex is about 1 in 100 for men and 1 in 1,000 for women, not everyone is equally at risk.
People whose heart stopped in the middle of sex tended to be relatively younger and African American and have a history of heart disease. People who have SCAs that aren’t related to sex are, on average, 65.2 years old, but the average age for people who do have SCAs during sex is only 60.3. It’s not clear why African Americans seemed to be more prone to these events, but the analysis showed that 19 percent of the sex-linked SCAs happened to African Americans, even though they only comprised 7.8 of the total SCAs in the study.
Less surprisingly, the people who had sex-linked SCAs tended to be men with a history of heart disease and also included people with abnormal, fluttering heart rhythms (ventricular fibrillation) or an unusually fast heartbeat. Most of them were already on heart medication.
While the risk of this mid-coital trauma is generally low, the researchers also point out that, when it does happen, the chances of survival are pretty slim. Only 20 percent of the patients lived to make it out of the hospital, the researchers report, and that’s probably because only one-third of them received CPR — a potential life-saving move — as soon as their hearts stopped.
Perhaps, then, preventing an otherwise enjoyable sex romp from culminating in a fatal ending requires all parties to step up. People who know they’re at risk should probably avoid over-exerting themselves, and those who know their partners are at risk should be ready to perform CPR — just in case.