Study Suggests Sexual Activity Can be Beneficial in Heart Failure

Teresa Joseph
Teresa Joseph
Cardiovascular Disease Research Group Discovers Potential Way to Improve Quality and Length of Life for Heart Failure Patients

A healthy heart could be attributed to your sex life. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix suggests that sexual activity may not only be safe, but it may be beneficial in patients with heart failure.

The Cardiovascular Disease Research group from the UArizona College of Medicine Phoenix Department of Internal Medicine led the study, which was published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences in July 2020.

Heart failure causes death and disability in millions of people worldwide. The group analyzed whether heart failure and survival are adversely affected by lack of sexual interaction. Their experimental findings suggest a new conceptual paradigm of heart failure, which recognizes that lifestyle and behavioral activities modify gene expression in the heart to alter the development of heart failure and delay its progression.

MRI showing that sexual activity prevents heart enlargement and development of heart failure
MRI showing that sexual activity prevents heart enlargement and heart failure
“Heart failure patients say that sexual activity enhances their quality of life, but they are fearful that it may make them worse,” said Inna Gladysheva, PhD. “Since the safety of sexual activity is difficult to study in heart failure patients, we examined it in a randomized, blinded, controlled study in mice with heart disease. We found that mice randomized to sexual activity had improved heart function, reduced pathological fluid accumulation (edema), less heart failure progression and lived almost 25 percent longer. Sexual activity altered gene expression in the heart and lowered plasma testosterone levels in males, which appeared to contribute to its beneficial effects.”

To monitor heart failure progression, researchers used human clinical diagnostic modalities, such as echocardiography and magnetic resonance imaging, and a comparative analysis of heart gene expression to monitor heart failure progression.

The research was a collaboration between basic-translational scientists Dr. Gladysheva, a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, and Ranjana Tripathi, PhD, a postdoctoral research associate, and translational and clinical scientists Guy Reed, MD, MS, dean of the College of Medicine – Phoenix; Ryan Sullivan, DVM, an assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine; Radhika Mehta, MD, a postdoctoral research associate in Internal Medicine, and Tai-Hwang Fan, MD, a cardiologist and associate professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

“For a lot of heart failure patients, sexual health is important,” Dr. Sullivan said. “As many as 52 percent of the men and 38 percent of the women with heart failure reported that sex was important and sexual health was impacting their quality of life. However, heart failure patients and their partners may be reluctant to engage in sexual activity, because of fear of damaging their heart. They may also be reluctant to openly discuss this activity with their physicians, and physicians frequently do not consider sexual activity in their care for these patients.”

Researchers said that more clinical and experimental studies are needed to address the safety and long-term effects of sexual activity for heart failure patients.

“The impact of lifestyle on heart failure outcomes remains poorly understood and is often overlooked,” Dr. Gladysheva said. “Our study suggests that lifestyle and behavioral activities, in particular sexual activity, may have significant positive effects on heart failure outcomes. Further research needs to confirm these findings in heart failure patients and to better understand the mechanisms responsible for the protective effect of sexual activity in heart failure.”

About the College

Founded in 2007, the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix inspires and trains exemplary physicians, scientists and leaders to optimize health and health care in Arizona and beyond. By cultivating collaborative research locally and globally, the college accelerates discovery in a number of critical areas — including cancer, stroke, traumatic brain injury and cardiovascular disease. Championed as a student-centric campus, the college has graduated more than 800 physicians, all of whom received exceptional training from nine clinical partners and more than 2,700 diverse faculty members. As the anchor to the Phoenix Bioscience Core, which is projected to have an economic impact of $3.1 billion by 2025, the college prides itself on engaging with the community, fostering education, inclusion, access and advocacy.