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Why Having Sex Is the Worst Time to Go Into Cardiac Arrest

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is the Health Editor at SheKnows. She is a bioethicist and writer specializing in sexual and reproductive health and the intersection of bioethics and popular culture. She is an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham ...

The health incident you definitely don't want to happen during sex

There’s never a good time to go into cardiac arrest, but according to a new study, there is an especially bad time: while you’re having sex.

This is much more than a mood-killer, the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2017 found. Cardiac arrests that happen during sex are more fatal than those that occur during other types of physical activity.

More: Recognizing These Signs of a Heart Attack in Women Over 50 Could Save a Life

Just as a quick refresher, even though people tend to use the terms “heart attack” and “cardiac arrest” interchangeably, they are not the same thing. According to the American Heart Association, a heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked, while cardiac arrest happens when the heart malfunctions and stops beating unexpectedly.

OK, back to the study. The researchers looked at data from 18,622 cases of sudden cardiac arrest. Of those, only 3,028 — or 16 percent — made it to the hospital alive. Among the people who lived long enough to be admitted to the hospital, 8 percent went into cardiac arrest doing some sort of physical activity, including working out, playing sports and, yes, having sex.

More: Yes, Young Women Can Have Heart Attacks Too

It’s also worth noting that all of the sudden cardiac arrests that happened during sex were in men. They also comprised 88 percent of the cardiac arrests during the other forms of physical activity. Of the men who went into cardiac arrest during sex, only 12 percent survived, compared with a 50 percent survival rate for the other physical activities.

So why the low survival rate when cardiac arrest happens during sex? According to the researchers, it might have to do with the fact that not as many people perform CPR because of the “uniquely private circumstances of the arrest,” which contributes to a lower survival rate.

This particular health scenario may sound familiar to fans of the NBC sitcom The Golden Girls, as this was how the husband of one of the main characters (Rose Nylund, played by Betty White) died. The circumstances surrounding Rose’s husband’s death were brought up throughout the show, including when another man dies of a heart problem after being intimate with her.

More: 6 Times The Golden Girls Were Women's Health Pioneers

The lesson here is that what sounds like a plot device from a 1980s sitcom is actually a serious health issue, emphasizing that as you age, check-ins with your doctor are important for a healthy heart and sex life. And if you find yourself in a situation where your partner is going into cardiac arrest during sex, don't be afraid to take your relationship to the next level and perform CPR.

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