Sexual intercourse and cerebral aneurysmal rupture: potential mechanisms and precipitants

A review

Matthew R. Reynolds M.D., Ph.D., Jon T. Willie M.D., Ph.D., Gregory J. Zipfel M.D. and Ralph G. Dacey Jr. M.D.
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  • Department of Neurological Surgery, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri
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Aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) is a significant cause of death in young and middle-aged individuals and causes tremendous morbidity in affected patients. Despite the identification of various risk factors, the series of events leading to the formation, growth, and rupture of intracranial aneurysms is poorly understood. Cerebral aneurysm rupture has been associated with sexual intercourse and other forms of physical exercise. In fact, multiple case series reported that coitus was the immediate preceding activity in 3.8–14.5% of patients suffering from aneurysmal SAH. This may be related to the large elevations in mean arterial blood pressure that occur in both males and females during sexual intercourse (130–175 and 125–160 mm Hg, respectively). While coitus and physical exercise share important physiological similarities, each may differentially affect the probability that a preformed aneurysm will rupture. In this literature review and synthesis, the authors analyze the physiological human response to sexual intercourse in an effort to delineate those factors that may precipitate aneurysmal rupture. The authors' analysis is based on the original data collected by Masters and Johnson. To the authors' knowledge, this is the first review to address the link between sexual intercourse and intracranial aneurysmal rupture. While actual measurements of the physiological variables relevant to SAH were not performed in this article, the authors make reasonable assumptions based on the available data to help elucidate the mechanism of sexually induced aneurysmal rupture.

Abbreviations used in this paper: BP = blood pressure; CBF = cerebral blood flow; CPP = cerebral perfusion pressure; HR = heart rate; ICP = intracranial pressure; MABP = mean arterial BP; RR = respiratory rate; SAH = subarachnoid hemorrhage.

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Contributor Notes

Address correspondence to: Matthew R. Reynolds, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Neurological Surgery, Barnes–Jewish Hospital, Campus Box 8057, 660 South Euclid Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri 63110. email: ReynoldsM@wudosis.wustl.edu.

Please include this information when citing this paper: published online June 11, 2010; DOI: 10.3171/2010.4.JNS09975.

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