Sex and heart failure

Many people with heart failure are not sure if they should have sex because of their condition and may feel embarrassed to raise this question with their doctor or nurse. The good news is that most people with heart failure can continue to enjoy sexual relations once their symptoms are under control.

Just as with any other activity, you shouldn’t have sex if you are feeling ill, are very short of breath, or are experiencing chest pains. You may feel more comfortable and confident when trying the following:

  • Choose a time for sex when you are rested, relaxed and not pressured
  • Avoid having sex immediately (approx. 1 hour) after eating a big meal or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Have sex in a comfortable, familiar room that is not too hot or too cold and where you will not be interrupted
  • Use foreplay as a warm-up period to help your body get used to the increased activity level of intercourse
  • Have sex in less strenuous positions, such as lying on the bottom or with you and your partner lying side by side. If at any time, you start to feel uncomfortable, breathless or tired during intercourse, stop and rest for a short while.

It’s also important to remember that you may not feel like having sex after a diagnosis such as heart failure. Feelings like stress, anxiety and depression are natural after a diagnosis of this nature and can often cause a loss of interest in sex. If this is the case, you might like to find other ways of being physically close and intimate with your partner. For example, you could spend time hugging, kissing and touching instead. This may also be reassuring for your partner.

Also, bear in mind that people with heart failure frequently have physical problems with sex such as erectile dysfunction (impotence), problems with ejaculation or the inability to have an orgasm or climax. In some rare cases, some of the medications prescribed for heart failure may also cause such problems. Don’t be shy. Most people with heart failure can enjoy a rewarding sex life. You should seek advice from your doctor or nurse if you have any concerns. There are very effective medical treatments available that most people with heart failure can use as required and you should discuss this with your doctor or nurse.

Take the time you need to accept your new situation. Your interest in sex may well return after you begin to take charge of your health and make appropriate lifestyle adjustments.

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ESC Guidelines for Heart Failure

What patients need to know

This guide for patients from the European Society of Cardiology aims to provide an overview of the latest evidence-based recommendations for the diagnosis and treatment of heart failure.

In particular, it should help patients to understand the:

  • main types of heart failure
  • medicines used to treat heart failure
  • devices that may be appropriate
  • importance of rehabilitation
  • management by a multidisciplinary team
  • importance of self-care in managing your own condition

Learn more


A series of 9 simple, captivating animations explaining heart failure and its treatment.

These narrated animations explain how a healthy heart works, what happens to it in heart failure and how various treatments work to improve your health.


In this section you can watch, listen or read interviews with other people with heart failure and their caregivers.


and share your own views and experiences with other patients, families and caregivers. is a European Society of Cardiology website

The website was developed under the direction of the Heart Failure Association of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). The ESC is a world leader in the discovery and dissemination of best practices in cardiovascular medicine. Our members and decision-makers are healthcare professionals who volunteer their time and expertise to represent professionals in the field of cardiology in Europe and beyond.

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