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. But there’s a bright side. According to new research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, this is incredibly rare. In fact, while sudden cardiac arrest is responsible for more than 300,000 deaths in the U.S. annually, less than 1 percent were linked to sexual activity.
But for those who are affected by SCA, it’s more than a mood-killer. The European Society of Cardiology Congress 2017 found that cardiac arrests that happen during sex are more fatal than those that occur during other types of physical activity.
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.
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.
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.