Sex and relationships with a heart condition

Couple holding hands

When it comes to sex and relationships, everyone is different. The important thing is that you’re happy with the choices you’re making.

Is it safe for me to have sex?

Some people with a heart condition worry about whether it’s safe for them to have sex – your heart condition shouldn’t prevent you from having a healthy sex life.

Sex should always be agreed by both people, and be something you feel ready for. Remember in the UK the age of consent is 16 years old.

Remember it’s our job to have these conversations with you, so don’t feel embarrassed, there isn’t anything we haven’t heard before.

Chris
Senior Cardiac Nurse

Don’t feel embarrassed to ask your healthcare team about sex. They are used to talking about it and can offer you advice and support.

If you want to talk to your healthcare professional but find it too embarrassing, try printing out some information instead. Take it to your clinic appointment, and say you would like to discuss what’s written on the page.

Everything you tell a doctor or nurse is confidential. This means they can’t tell anyone without your permission, unless you or someone else is at risk of harm.

For more information, Brook Advisory offer free and confidential sexual health and wellbeing support for under 25s.

What problems could I experience?

Some young men commonly experience problems with getting or maintaining an erection. This is called erectile dysfunction (ED).

ED is mostly caused by stress and anxiety, and will usually fix itself with time and patience.

Sometimes ED can be a side effect of the medication men take for their heart condition. This might be something you feel embarrassed talking about, but doctors and nurses are used to having these conversations. You won’t be the first person to ask.

If you feel your heart condition is affecting your confidence or relationships in any way, don’t keep it to yourself. Talk to your cardiologist or nurse specialist, they’re there to help you.

For more information on what to do if you’re having problems with sex, visit The Family Planning Association.  

Should I use contraception?

Contraception is especially important for women with a congenital heart conditions as it is best to try and avoid an unplanned pregnancy. Also, remember that not all types of contraception protect you against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Your local family planning and sexual health clinics can give you confidential advice about pregnancy, contraception and screening for HIV and STIs.

What contraception can I use?

There are lots of types of contraception to choose from.  Different methods will suit different people. All contraception is free on the NHS in the UK, so you don’t need to pay anything for it.

It’s important for both partners to practise safe sex – it’s not just one person’s responsibility. Talk to your specialist nurse or cardiologist about the safest contraception for you to use.  The most common and safest form of contraception is a condom.

For some girls with a heart condition, the commonly used combined pill may be too risky, as it can make blood clots more likely. Make sure you get proper advice from your cardiac clinic.

Contraception can sometimes be taken by women who have problems caused by their hormones such as:

  • heavy, irregular or prolonged periods
  • acne
  • mood swings.

If any of these affect you, please speak to your nurse specialist, or visit The Family Planning Association.

What do I do if my contraception doesn’t work?

Always  try to think about contraception before you have sex, not after. However, sometimes accidents happen. It is important to know what to do if your normal method of contraception fails, for example:

  • when a condom splits
  • if you realised you’ve forgotten to take your pill
  • if you got carried away and forgot to use contraception. 

Women can use emergency contraception when this happens. It’s good to use in an emergency, but it doesn’t always work. It also doesn’t protect you from HIV or STIs.

The emergency contraceptive pill

If you’re over 16, you can buy the emergency contraceptive pill from most chemists. It costs around £26, or you can contact your local family planning clinic or GP where you can get it for free.

Because the emergency contraceptive pill is more effective the sooner after sex it is taken, it is important to get advice as quickly as possible. Speak to your nurse specialist or cardiologist about whether the emergency contraceptive pill is safe for you to take with your heart condition.

Pregnancy and starting a family

Ideally, women with a heart condition should plan their pregnancies and speak to their cardiologist or nurse specialist first. This is so that both you and your baby can be monitored closely throughout your pregnancy to make sure you’re both safe and healthy. Any problems can be picked up and treated quickly to help avoid any harm to you or your baby.

At specialist cardiology centres you will find cardiac nurse specialists and cardiologists who are experienced in giving advice on contraception and managing pregnancies.

The Somerville Foundation also provide detailed information for women with a congenital heart condition who wish to start a family. 

Will my baby have a heart condition too?

There’s an increased risk of a baby having a congenital heart condition if one or both of the parents do, but it’s more likely that the baby won’t have any heart problems at all. Your cardiologist or nurse specialist will be able to talk through the risks with you.

You may need tests to check how well your heart would cope with pregnancy, and adjustments to any your medications that might harm an unborn baby.

Lots of women with congenital heart conditions have babies. The most important thing to remember is to speak to your cardiologist or nurse specialist in advance so your pregnancy can be properly planned for. Find out more about pregnancy and contraception while living with a heart condition.