When Sex Leads to Stroke

While uncommon, a heart defect and sexual activity can increase risk.

ByABC News
September 12, 2008, 4:29 PM

Sept. 15, 2008— -- Dr. Jose Biller treats hundreds of stroke patients each year. But few cases were as baffling as the one he received late one afternoon on Dec. 3, 2007.

What puzzled Biller, chairman of the department of neurology at the Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago, was that this patient didn't fit the profile of a typical stroke sufferer. The patient was a 35-year-old woman with no known cardiovascular risk factors. In short, she was a young, healthy, nonsmoking woman.

But for some reason, on this day, she suffered from a stroke under very unusual circumstances; only minutes after having sexual intercourse with her boyfriend, the woman began complaining of numbness on the left side of her face, her speech became slurred, and her left arm became weak.

"She was in a real state of panic," Biller recalled. "The family, the boyfriend, everyone was very disturbed."

In this case, which was released Monday in the Journal of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Disease, it's likely that the patient's sexual activity triggered her stroke. What made the case Biller faced even more puzzling was the lack of typical risk factors that usually accompany the onset of stroke. Typically, men face a higher risk than women, and it is usually a condition that affects those in their later years.

But it turns out that a defect in the patient's heart predisposed her to the condition. And oddly enough, cases like these are not as rare as one might think.

"I have seen this sort of thing on several occasions and treated many patients -- male and female -- sometimes with success and sometimes without," said Dr. Pat Lyden, medical director of the UCSD Stroke Center.

Fortunately, according to stroke experts, sexual intercourse, in of itself, is not likely to trigger a stroke without accompanying risk factors.

"There is nothing about sex that should be reported to increase stroke risk," Lyden explained. "Stroke can occur any time: in the shower, on the toilet, working out in the gym or during a class. I have seen patients [who suffered a stroke] with each of these scenarios."