Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart unexpectedly stops beating, due to faulty electrical signaling that affects heart rate. Sudden cardiac arrest is, more often than not, fatal, and it requires immediate specialized attention in order for the worst outcome to be prevented.
According to the latest data available to the American Heart Association (AHA), in 2016, more than 350,000 people experienced a cardiac arrest outside of hospital, and, of these, only 12 percent survived.
The main factors that influence susceptibility to cardiac arrest include age, biological sex, race, and existing cardiovascular and metabolic conditions. Therefore, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute say that older men, black people, and individuals with a diagnosis of coronary heart disease or diabetes are most at risk.
Because of the poor outcome of cardiac arrest, many who consider themselves at risk may try to avoid certain activities, such as sex, believing that they render them more exposed.
But new research on which a number of prestigious institutions — including Helsinki University Hospital in Finland and the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA — collaborated has revealed that it is unlikely that cardiac arrest will occur during sexual intercourse.
The findings of the study, whose first author was Dr. Aapo Aro — from Helsinki University Hospital — were presented yesterday at the AHA's Scientific Sessions 2017, held in Anaheim, CA.
Low incidence of cardiac arrest due to sex
The researchers reviewed the medical records of adults from a Northwestern community in the United States between 2002 and 2015. In a population of around 1 million individuals, the team identified 4,557 cases of cardiac arrest.
For a case of cardiac arrest to be considered related to sexual activity, however, it was required to have occurred either "during or within 1 hour of sexual intercourse."
Of all the instances of cardiac arrest that the researchers identified, only 34 (0.7 percent) were considered "related to sexual activity," with 18 cases having occurred during sex and 15 cases immediately after.
Dr. Aro and team also noted that the annual incidence of sex-related cardiac arrest (SEX-SCA) was only 0.28 per 100,000 cases.
In all, men were likelier to experience cardiac arrest due to sexual activity: 1 percent of all cases among male adults were related to intercourse. For women, only 0.1 percent of cardiac arrest events were due to sex.
Despite low risk, CPR should be promoted
Perhaps even more surprisingly, people who experienced SEX-SCA were typically younger than expected, at approximately 60 years. Also, African Americans were more exposed than other groups, accounting for 19 percent of SEX-SCA cases.
Individuals who had cardiac arrest during or straight after sex only received cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) from their partner in a third of all cases, despite the fact that it can be life-saving.
Looking at the numbers, the researchers concluded that the overall risk of cardiac arrest being triggered by sexual activity was low, and even lower for women.
Still, while these results are reassuring, Dr. Aro and colleagues highlight the necessity of educating the general population about the importance of CPR, as well as knowing how to perform this procedure correctly.