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How Stereotypes Impact Heart Care


Photo credit: Nell Hoving

From the start of her career, Helene Glassberg has seen first-hand how a lack of awareness around heart disease in women can result in tragedy. In medical school, during her rotation in the ICU, a young woman was taken in from the ER. She had chest pain, but the ER staff hadn’t considered heart disease.

“I don’t think she even had an EKG,” she says. “She got really, really ill.” Her ICU doctors realized she’d had a heart attack and rushed her into the OR. “She would have died, had she not undergone a successful emergency heart transplant.”

That experience inspired Glassberg to become a cardiologist. She now helps people avoid that kind of life-threatening ordeal. In addition to her cardiology practice, she works with a holistic team in Penn Medicine’s sports cardiology program. “Within that practice, we see anyone from athletes, to 20-year-olds with an abnormal EKG, to adults with chest pain.”

Glassberg helps people live healthy with individualized lifestyle plans.“I tell my patients, I’m Italian, my mother would flop over if I told her pasta isn’t happening any more,” she says.

Instead, make it healthy, but realizable. That’s true for exercise too.

“If you tell a patient who can’t afford sneakers, ‘The only way to do this is to join the gym,’ they’re never coming back,” she says. “Tailoring it to the person enables them to stick to it.”

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