Sudden Cardiac Death From Sexual Activity Rare in Adults Aged Younger Than 50 Years

Human heart artwork
Human heart artwork
Investigators examined sudden cardiac deaths associated with sexual intercourse, as well as characteristics of the study cohort and their underlying causes of death.

Sexual activity was associated with a low risk for sudden cardiac death in adults aged younger than 50 years, according to a study published in JAMA Cardiology.   

The researchers sought to evaluate the percentage of sudden cardiac deaths associated with sexual activity, as well as to describe the individuals in the sudden cardiac death cohort and their underlying causes of death. For the study, the researchers reviewed a database of sudden cardiac death cases referred to the center for cardiac pathology at St. George’s University of London (SGUL), United Kingdom. The sudden cardiac death cases had been referred to SGUL between January 1, 1994, and August 31, 2020. Prior to referral to the cardiac pathology unit, all cases of sudden cardiac death underwent a detailed autopsy, which included a toxicology screening, in order to rule out any noncardiac causes of death. Sudden cardiac death was defined as “death occurring within 12 hours of apparent well-being.”

A total of 6847 cases of sudden cardiac death were reviewed, with death having occurred during or within 1 hour following sexual intercourse in 0.2% (17 of 6847) of the cases. The mean patient age at death was 38±18 years. The majority (65%; 11 of 17) of the deaths occurred in men.

A structurally normal heart at autopsy that suggested sudden arrhythmic death syndrome was observed in 53% (9 of 17) of the individuals. Aortic dissection was reported in 12% (2 of 17) of the cases. Further, 1 death was linked to each of the following causes: arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, idiopathic fibrosis, idiopathic left ventricular hypertrophy, ischemic heart disease, and mitral valve prolapse. Sudden cardiac death that happened during sexual activity accounted for a low percentage of decedents, even when the causes of mortality were analyzed.

Limitations of the current study include the fact that only cases of sudden cardiac death were examined, and survivors of sudden cardiac arrests were not accounted for in the analysis. Further, the center at SGUL focused on sudden cardiac deaths, with other causes of death either excluded or not referred to the center by local pathologists.

“We believe these findings provide some reassurance that engaging in sexual activity is relatively safe in patients with a cardiac condition, especially in [patients younger than 50 years of age],” the study authors noted.

Disclosure: Some of the study authors have declared affiliations with biotech, pharmaceutical, and/or device companies. Please see the original reference for a full list of authors’ disclosures. 


Finocchiaro G, Westaby J, Behr ER, Papadakis M, Sharma S, Sheppard MN. Association of sexual intercourse with sudden cardiac death in young individuals in the United Kingdom. JAMA Cardiol. Published online January 12, 2022. doi:10.1001/jamacardio.2021.5532