ANAHEIM, CALIF. – Patients with heart disease can safely be reassured that sexual intercourse as a trigger for sudden cardiac death is extremely rare, Aapo Aro, MD, said at the American Heart Association scientific sessions.

He presented an analysis from the ongoing Oregon Sudden Unexpected Death Study, a population-based case-control study that captures all cases of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) in the Portland, Ore., area.

This was the first-ever study to examine the burden of SCA triggered by sexual activity. Of 4,557 adjudicated cases of SCA in adults during 2002-2015, a mere 34, or 0.7%, happened during or within 1 hour of sexual intercourse.

Thirty-two of the 34 cases occurred in men. That works out to 1% of SCAs in men being related to sexual activity. In women, the rate was 10-fold lower, at 0.1%, noted Dr. Aro , a cardiologist at Helsinki University Hospital who was at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles at the time he conducted this research.

Many of the Oregonians who experienced SCA had known heart disease at the time, regardless of whether the event occurred during sexual activity or at another time. Of note, however, SCA during sexual activity presented with ventricular fibrillation/ventricular tachycardia in 76% of cases, versus a 45% rate in individuals whose SCA was not associated with sexual intercourse.

“The data are very reassuring,” Dr. Aro said in an interview. “Many of these patients had known cardiac disease, but still the absolute numbers of events are very small. Our take home message from this study is that sexual activity can be regarded as safe even in cardiac patients.”

The Oregon Sudden Unexpected Death Study is funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the American Heart Association. Dr. Aro reported having no financial conflicts of interest.