Sex, drugs, alcohol and heart disease

Sex, drugs and alcohol might seem like an opening line to an '80s rock movie, but what might they be doing to your heart?

"Sex can be a very healthy pursuit when enjoyed in a safe manner," said Christina Reuss, MD a cardiologist at the HonorHealth Heart and Vascular Institute. By the same token, a small amount of alcohol can contribute to heart health and promote relaxation."

However, when alcohol is consumed in excess — more than one standard drink a day for women and two for men — it presents such health risks as:

Everything in moderation is great advice when it comes to alcohol. If you want to avoid its potential heart-damaging effects, consider opting for beverages such as grape juice or water.

How do drugs impact heart health?

Scientists are studying how various drugs impact consumer heart health. At the top of the list is marijuana. There's much debate on the benefits and risks of this drug, and research is more limited since it's still categorized as an illegal drug in most states. Here's what is known:

  • Smoking marijuana increases the heart rate in the first 12 minutes, and it stays that way for approximately eight hours.
  • People who have smoked marijuana within the last hour have a 4.8 times greater risk of suffering a heart attack.

Meanwhile, drugs like Ritalin, an amphetamine derivative, have shown a higher cardiovascular event rate (any severe or acute cardiovascular condition) in children and people in their early twenties, while there is no increased risk when it's taken by adults.

How sex influences heart health

One of the most common questions Dr. Reuss hears is: How does sex impact my heart health? "It depends on many factors, which is also true with drugs and alcohol. Sex is an essential part of life for many, and foundationally, it's a cardiac event that places some heavy requirements on the heart," she said. Less than 1% of all heart attacks are caused by having sex within an hour or three days of having a heart attack, she noted.

The good news is that sex can actually offer some heart-protective benefits. It can help contribute to the 100 minutes of exercise doctors recommend each week. However, if you've previously had a heart attack, a stress test may be needed before you resume sexual activity. Also, your doctor should review your medications to make sure there are no negative interactions or side effects. As a general rule, if you can climb two flights of stairs at a brisk pace without difficulty, you should be healthy enough to engage in sex.

It all comes down to good decisions. While sex, drugs and alcohol can have a negative impact on heart health, they also can have some benefits. Knowing how to use each intelligently and how to recognize warning signs can go a long way toward ensuring healthy cardiac activity for years to come.


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