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