Patreece Pinckney works in the billing department in Long Island...

Patreece Pinckney works in the billing department in Long Island Jewish Medical Center's cardiology department. During a wellness check Northwell Health did on its employees, she discovered her blood pressure was very high. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Patreece Pinckney knew she had high blood pressure and had been taking medication for it for 15 years, since her daughter was born.

But one day this past spring, she decided to have her pressure checked during Northwell Health's "Take the Pressure Off" campaign for employees at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, where she works as a patient services assistant in billing in the hospital's cardiology department. What the blood pressure screening found was alarming, to hospital staff and to her. 

"It was 162 over 102. Very high. Higher than normal," Pinckney said. She figured it was the result of life stressors, like the passing of her father last Thanksgiving. "I’m still carrying that hurt." And she had symptoms — dizziness, headaches and a "pinching in my chest."

Medical professionals call high blood pressure, also called hypertension, the "silent killer" because it often comes without symptoms, unless it's very high. Pinckney, 52, said even with her previous medication, her readings were "like 147 over 92. It was never 120 over 80," which doctors say is ideal.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • According to a recent World Health Organization study, 4 in 5 people worldwide are not adequately treated for high blood pressure, also called hypertension, and 1 in 3 people are living with hypertension.

  • High blood pressure, if untreated, can lead to stroke, heart attack or kidney disease.

  • Most people can have high blood pressure without any symptoms, which leads medical professionals to call it the “silent killer.”

A recent World Health Organization study — its first ever on the subject of high blood pressure — found that approximately 4 in 5 people worldwide are not adequately treated for the disease and 1 in 3 people are living with hypertension. The WHO report defined hypertension as a blood pressure of 140/90 and higher. The WHO said if countries scaled up their efforts to treat high blood pressure, 76 million deaths could be averted between 2023 and 2050. 

Long Island physicians said studies show that the negative effects of high blood pressure can emerge at lower readings.

Dr. Sandeep Mallipattu, professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Nephrology & Hypertension Department at Stony Brook University's Renaissance School of Medicine, said the recommended reading denoting high blood pressure starts at 130 over 80. 

Dr. Joseph Diamond, director of nuclear cardiology at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and a clinical specialist in hypertension, said, "We used to say normal blood pressure was anything under 140 or 140 over 90. Now we’re calling normal blood pressure 120 over 80 or less."

Diamond, pointing to a 2018 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, said the prevalence of hypertension was increasing in the United States. "In 2014, it was about 32%. In 2017, it was 45.4%. … Part of the reason it’s increasing is because the criteria for what we define as high blood pressure has become more strict. Clinical studies in the last decade show the risk of high blood pressure occurs at lower levels, leading to stroke, heart attack and kidney disease." 

"Why we call it the silent killer," Diamond said, is " most people can have very high blood pressure without symptoms."

As a nephrologist who focuses on patients with chronic kidney disease and those receiving dialysis, Mallipattu said, "So these individuals on dialysis have high blood pressure. If you focus on the population of patients that have failing kidneys, Suffolk County is in the top five counties in the state of patients who are on dialysis."

Stony Brook Medicine is focusing on blood pressure screening, as one of five institutions nationwide to receive a grant from the American Medical Association to begin a training module for students during the 2023-24 academic year — in consistent blood pressure measurement. 

In an internal video produced by Northwell Health, Dr. John D'Angelo, the system's senior vice president and regional executive director of the Central Region, said the "Take the Pressure Off" campaign was to make it easy for employees across the health network to get a blood pressure screening. "If it's high, there'll be some guidance provided. If it's fine, you'll know it's good," he said on the video.

After her blood pressure was taken this past spring, Pinckney was urged to go the emergency department, which she resisted doing. She sat for a while, though, which brought her pressure down to a more manageable level, she said. And the next day, her new doctor sent her to a cardiologist, who increased her medication dosage.

"Since then, my pressure has been 120 over 80 or 126 over 82. I’ve never seen 140 or 150 again," said Pinckney, who grew up on Long Island. 

"If not for that random check by Northwell, I probably would’ve passed out. I wouldn’t have known," she added.

Pinckney said her previous doctor "never once changed my meds. … She just said change your diet."

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