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

Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does, Part 18: Cholesterol Testing

vegetablesWelcome to the latest installment of “Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does,” a series on Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona’s blog that highlights Planned Parenthood’s diverse array of services — the ones Jon Kyl never knew about.


It’s National Cholesterol Education Month.


Heart disease and stroke are leading causes of death in our country, and high cholesterol is a major risk factor for both of these conditions. Most people with high cholesterol don’t have it under control, even though it is both preventable and treatable. According to the National Cholesterol Education Program, adults 20 years of age and older should have their cholesterol checked every five years. And, with two out of three adults suffering from high cholesterol, keeping track of your cholesterol is important.

What is cholesterol?

plaqueCholesterol is a waxy substance, sort of like fat, that can coat the walls of your arteries, forming a “plaque.” This is also referred to as “hardening of the arteries” or atherosclerosis. You’ll often hear comments like, “Those fast-food cheeseburgers will clog your arteries” — regularly eating food that is high in saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol that circulates in your bloodstream, increasing your risk for health problems. When arteries have too much plaque, they narrow, and your heart has to work harder to pump blood through your body.

Our bodies need cholesterol to function, but they’re able to synthesize it themselves — unlike many vitamins and minerals, we can make our own cholesterol and don’t need to get it from food. Cholesterol comes in two types: “good” cholesterol, or high density lipoprotein (HDL); and “bad” cholesterol, or low density lipoprotein (LDL). “High cholesterol” refers to high levels of “bad” (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. LDL is what forms plaque in the arteries, while HDL prevents plaque buildup, likely by carrying the LDL to the liver, which processes it before it’s excreted from the body. Continue reading

Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does, Part 10: Diabetes Screening

from http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/about/dateline/win11/5.aspxWelcome to the latest installment of “Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does,” a series on Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona’s blog that highlights Planned Parenthood’s diverse array of services — the ones Jon Kyl doesn’t know about.

November is National Diabetes Month. Diabetes is a serious chronic disease — and at Planned Parenthood Arizona, we can screen you for diabetes and help you get necessary treatment if you are diagnosed with it. The American Diabetes Association recommends screening for anyone more than 45 years of age, as well as younger people who have risk factors.


At Planned Parenthood, we can screen you for diabetes; at home, you can take steps to prevent it.


What Is Diabetes?

The human body creates glucose (a type of sugar) from our food, which it breaks down into tiny molecules. Insulin, a hormone that is created in the pancreas, enters the bloodstream and enables glucose to enter our body’s cells — which use glucose as fuel. Diabetes occurs when blood glucose becomes too high and the body is unable to regulate it; this lack of regulation results in damaged tissues, leading to long-term health concerns.

There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes, which is characterized by the pancreas’ inability to produce enough insulin; and Type 2 diabetes, in which the pancreas can continue to produce insulin, but the body’s cells aren’t able to utilize it. Those with Type 1 diabetes commonly encounter issues with frequent urination, increased thirst and hunger, weight loss, extreme fatigue, and blurred vision. Individuals with Type 2 diabetes may experience any of those symptoms, as well as slow-healing cuts and bruises, frequent infections, and areas of darkened skin. Heart disease is also a serious concern; an individual with diabetes has more than twice the chance of a heart attack. While some people with Type 2 diabetes experience no apparent symptoms, it can result in death if the disorder is not monitored and controlled effectively. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: The Mini-Pill or Progestin-Only Pill

Birth control pills usually contain progestin and estrogen, which are both sex hormones. Progestin-only birth control pills (POPs) are sometimes called the mini-pill because they don’t contain estrogen. If you are concerned about taking estrogens because you have high blood pressure, migraines, heart disease, or a history of blood clots, but still would like to take an oral contraceptive, this may be an option for you. It is also a good choice if you are a new mother and breastfeeding.


Progestin-only pills don’t contain estrogen, making them a good option for some people.


POPs are used in the same way as other birth control pills. They come in packs of 28 pills. You take one pill at the same time each day and after the last pill in the pack is taken, you start a new pack the next day; there is no skipping days. Because there is a slightly greater risk of becoming pregnant on progestin-only pills, you must be very careful to take each pill at the same time each day and never miss a day. If your period is late and you missed one or more pills or took them late, you may need to take a pregnancy test.

The effects of POPs are easily reversible and after stopping these pills your chances of getting pregnant should not be delayed. Continue reading

Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does, Part 5: Thyroid Testing

Diagram of human head and neck, illustrating thyroid gland.

Image: Medline Plus

Welcome to the latest installment of “Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does,” a series on Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona’s blog that highlights Planned Parenthood’s diverse array of services — the ones Jon Kyl doesn’t know about.

“When was the last time you had your thyroid checked?” the nurse practitioner asked me. I was at my annual exam, discussing heavy menstrual bleeding.

“I’m not sure,” I replied. “Maybe never?”

Really, I was thinking to myself, What’s a thyroid?

As it turns out, the thyroid gland does a lot of the work that regulates the body’s metabolism, which is sort of a big deal for overall health. It means that when the thyroid is overactive — as in the case of hyperthryoidism — or when the thyroid is underactive — as in the case of hypothyroidism — symptoms can show up in a variety of areas, such as: Continue reading