Sex is impossible for a fifth of people with heart conditions, according to new statistics released by the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
The BHF's Heart Matters magazine polled over 1,500 people with heart conditions (1) and found 32 per cent had sex less often, and 19 per cent have stopped having sex completely as a result of their heart condition. One in five respondents said they were worried about having a heart attack or cardiac arrest during sex.
Over 7 million people in the UK suffer from heart and circulatory conditions (2). Based on the survey results, the BHF estimates that issues with sex could mar the lives of over one million people.
It isn't just the physical effects that are blighting peoples' sex lives - 14 per cent said they had lost interest in sex because of the emotional impact of their heart condition, and 5 per cent said scarring from an operation made them feel sexually unattractive.
36 year old Martin Tailford, who on Christmas day 2011 had a heart attack and has since had difficulty having sex with his wife Louise, said:
"After my heart attack sex wasn't natural, it required a lot more planning. I couldn't spontaneously have sex. I needed to think what to wear to cover up the scars and bruises.
"Sex isn't what you base a relationship on, but it is really important. My heart attack had put a strain on Louise, and not being able to be physically close to her really took its toll on our relationship. I would advise people in my position to get help as soon as they can, and not be disappointed if things don't go well at first. It takes time."
But the BHF's survey revealed people aren't getting this help. 30 per cent of people have not discussed the issue with anyone, including their doctor. Eight per cent would have liked to access professional help but couldn't get any.
The BHF is urging heart patients and GPs to talk openly about issues around sex, so treatment and support can be provided.
Doireen Maddock, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the BHF, said:
"Sex is a hugely important part of life, but isn't getting the attention it deserves in the consultation room. We're hearing loud and clear from Heart Matters readers that they need better support and information on how to deal with issues affecting their sex lives.
"Problems like erectile dysfunction can often be tackled and rectified, but the first hurdle is identifying people who need that help. We'd like patients to feel comfortable and empowered to raise these issues, and for the NHS to proactively offer support in this area to everyone who needs it."
For information and support visit bhf.org.uk/sex