Healing Hearts, Honoring My Mother

Whether it be a chocolate heart, a broken heart, or someone having your heart, Valentine’s Day has the word heart on all of our lips. While the clichés can be cute or sickening, depending on your general outlook of the holiday, the word heart has become an identity for our personality in reference to our emotions.

Very few people will first think of the pump-like organ that regulates blood circulation from its home in our chests. Even fewer people give thought to the health of that organ, which is unfortunate since 1 in 4 deaths is caused by heart disease, making it the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. To refocus our awareness of the true definition of the word, February is American Heart Month.


You can be proactive about your heart health — and that of those you love.


There are different kinds of heart disease, which obviously means that there are different causes. While cardiovascular disease can refer to different heart or blood vessel problems, the definition is widely used in reference to damage done by a buildup of fatty plaques in your arteries. As that buildup thickens, the walls of the arteries harden, which obstructs blood from being distributed to your organs.

This process is called atherosclerosis, but we know it as coronary artery disease. While some heart conditions can be due to heart defects that you may have been born with, atherosclerosis is the most common cause of cardiovascular disease and is caused predominantly by correctable problems: obesity, lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet, and smoking. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: Can I Use Birth Control to Skip a Period?

In 2003, the FDA approved Seasonale, an extended-cycle birth control pill. This pill, a combination of estrogen and progestin, is taken daily for 84 days followed by one week of inactive (placebo) pills, allowing a woman to have her period once every three months — four times per year.

Since that time, several other extended-cycle birth control pills have been marketed, including Lybrel, released in 2007, which offers women continuous contraception coverage with only one period per year.


Using birth control to skip periods doesn’t result in side effects quite this exaggerated.

Prior to Seasonale’s debut, certain types of birth control pills could be taken back to back, allowing users to have period-free weddings and honeymoons, or to treat certain conditions, such as endometriosis. But there was no consensus about how to use birth control pills this way, and no actual product marketed specifically for this type of use. Early studies on extended-cycle pills reported that users were highly satisfied using pills to have fewer periods — and wanted to continue using these pills to reduce periods after the study was completed.

Can skipping periods be beneficial or harmful? Is this a lifestyle choice that’s not “natural”? How many “normal” periods do you need in a lifetime? Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: NuvaRing, Another Contraceptive Choice

Would you like an alternative to a daily pill for contraception? NuvaRing is a flexible vaginal ring containing a combination of two hormones used to prevent pregnancy: a progestin and an estrogen. It is placed inside the vagina where it releases a continuous small dose of these hormones, and is left in place for three weeks. Then you remove it and wait one week, during which you usually will have your period. After this ring-free week, you insert a new ring.


The vaginal ring is an excellent alternative for people who don’t want to take a daily pill for contraception.


Used properly, it is nearly as effective as oral birth control pills, is easily reversible and frees you from having to remember to take a pill each day. You can use tampons, vaginal yeast medications, and spermicides when wearing the ring, but you should not use a diaphragm because it may not fit properly. In some vaginal conditions, such as a prolapsed (or falling) uterus, you may not be able to use the ring because it might slip out more easily. The NuvaRing can only work when it’s inserted properly in order to release its hormones. Most women report they cannot feel the ring once it’s inserted.

Most of the side effects of the NuvaRing are similar to birth control pills. Cigarette smoking is definitely not recommended because it may increase your risk for strokes or heart attacks, especially if you are older than 35. There have been several reports that the ring may put you at an increased risk for blood clots, and this is still being studied. If you have concerns about this or have a personal or family history of blood clots, heart attacks, or strokes, it’s important to talk with your health care provider before using the ring. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: Do Birth Control Pills Cause Blood Clots?

Alarming ads urge you to call a lawyer if you’ve been “injured” taking certain birth control products, such as Yaz, Yasmin, or NuvaRing. These injuries include venous thromboembolisms (VTEs), heart attacks, and strokes. It’s frightening to wonder if you are endangering your health by taking a pill to prevent pregnancy or treat dysmenorrhea (painful cramps).

Should you stop taking your pills? What is a VTE and why should you worry? VTE is a blood clot that usually starts in your leg, but may break loose and travel to your heart or brain and cause a heart attack or stroke. It can be life-threatening, so it is a serious side effect to be concerned about. All birth control pills may increase your risk for a VTE, but it has always been considered so small that most women can safely take the pill. About 3 to 9 women in 10,000 who use birth control pills for more than one year may have a VTE compared to 1 in 5 women out of 10,000 who are not pregnant and not on the pill.


Birth control pills are considered very safe for the majority of women, but all medications carry some risk of adverse effects.


When oral birth control pills were first developed, they contained much higher doses of estrogens and progestins — types of hormones — especially estrogen. It was also noticed that there was a higher risk for developing a blood clot while using birth control pills than in nonpregnant women who didn’t take the pill. It was thought that the high dose of estrogen was responsible for this risk. So, with continuing research and development, eventually the dose of estrogen was decreased to the lower level used today to minimize the chance of a clot. The type of estrogen in pills today is almost exclusively ethinyl estradiol. Continue reading

Margaret Sanger in Tucson: “Daring to Live”

“When the marvel of the spring came to the desert, you saw the cactus and the flowering, saw the brown floor change to delicate pale yellow, stood in awe of nature daring to live without water. You were reminded of the futility of wearing out your life merely providing food and raiment. Like the challenge of death, which so many of the people there were gallantly facing, the desert itself was a challenge.” – Margaret Sanger on Tucson, in her autobiography

Sanger in 1959, with friend Grace Sternberg, returning to the United States after a trip to New Delhi, Sanger’s final overseas trip.

Margaret Sanger moved to Tucson in the 1930s and soon thereafter decided to live here full time, believing that the warm climate was conducive to good health. During Sanger’s years in Tucson, she latched onto any health fad or other technique she thought might improve her health. She exercised and experimented with various diets, including fasting on juice; eating a combination of yogurt, wheat germ, and honey; taking vitamin E supplements; and eating papayas (which she had shipped from Hawaii) for their alleged “restorative substances.”

In 1949, however, Sanger suffered a heart attack, and her son Stuart, a doctor, injected her with Demerol, a recently introduced painkiller not considered addictive at the time. The next year she had a second heart attack, resulting in another long convalescence at the hospital. Her addiction to Demerol intensified; she got Stuart to write prescriptions for her, and would sometimes falsely claim that bottles of the drug had fallen and shattered, which would require further prescriptions to be written. If a nurse refused her demand for Demerol, Sanger would inject it herself. Her son tried to wean her from the drug by collecting empty bottles and filling them with a diluted concentration of the drug, slowly increasing the proportion of water to Demerol until the solution was pure water. This was effective for a while, but eventually Sanger realized she had been duped and endeavored to get her hands back on the drug. She went through other doctors, firing them when they would decrease her dosage, and eventually took to self-administering injections of pure water every 30 minutes. Her addiction, it seemed, was both to the drug itself and the psychological comforts of the injection.  Continue reading

Margaret Sanger in Tucson: Still Going Headstrong

Margaret Sanger 1947Throughout her quasi-retirement in Tucson, Margaret Sanger was still committed to the cause that propelled her into the national spotlight in the first place. In Tucson, she arranged to debate the Bishop of Arizona to address “the morality of birth control” – they spoke on different nights, however, since neither wanted to be on stage with the other.

William Mathews, editor of the Arizona Star, wrote: “Who do these women think they are to take on the Bishop of Arizona?” Apparently it was still the prevailing sentiment that a woman’s place was in the home, and despite all the socializing and entertaining Sanger did in her own life, she wasn’t shy about returning to the public sphere.

She wasn’t shy about defying authority either. One example of this facet of her personality was related by one of her biographers. Attempting to cross into the United States from Nogales, Mexico, the border inspector informed Sanger that she could not enter the country without having the required vaccination. Thinking this requirement unnecessary, she tried to refuse, but the inspector was insistent. She relented, and he administered the injection, but immediately after crossing the border, in full sight of the inspector, she sucked the vaccine from the injection site, grinning at him mischievously.  Continue reading