White Coat Hypertension: What Is It and How Can You Avoid It?

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White Coat HypertensionOur bodies are constantly under strain and the result of that can mean high blood pressure.

Whether it’s stress from work or personal problems at home, we are always at risk of developing high blood pressure. The good news is that those issues can be resolved with some relaxing remedies and techniques.

Just when you thought you knew it all, there’s something more. Let me introduce you to white coat hypertension. I know it’s quite the long title, but the effect may seem even more outrageous.

The term comes from the reference to a doctor’s white coat; you might be starting to figure out what this effect could be. Just to be sure though, let me tell you more about this condition and how you can overcome white coat hypertension.

What Is White Coat Hypertension?

As the name suggests, the white coat effect generally means your blood pressure is significantly higher when it is taken by a medical professional at a medical facility as opposed to when it is taken in your own home. Sounds crazy, right? The truth is that this effect is common because many people get frightened or stressed when they are in a medical setting.

On average, when you take your blood pressure at home, you first rest for five minutes with both feet flat on the floor and your back and arm supported. You then apply the cuff on your bare arm. When you do it at home, the upper number of your blood pressure measurement can be around 10 mmHg lower than if it’s taken by a physician.

For example, at the doctor’s office, your blood pressure could be 130 mmHg/80 mmHg; while at home, it’ll come in at an average 120 mmHg/80 mmHg. The white coat effect doesn’t necessarily mean it only happens when you go to the doctor’s office; it can happen in any medical setting, like the dentist’s office.

A Japanese medical report that was done after eight years of observation suggested that white coat hypertension is a “transitional condition to hypertension.” It also suggests that it may carry a poor cardiovascular prognosis.

What Causes White Coat Hypertension?

We cannot fix our blood pressure level; we can only try to control it. At times, we may lose that control without even knowing it. White coat syndrome mainly happens because we are nervous about having our blood pressure tested by our doctor. It’s natural for people to tense up a little in a medical setting; the main reason is because we associate the medical setting with troubling news—which we are afraid of hearing. Unfortunately, we don’t even notice that we’re tensing up until the doctor takes our blood pressure and gives us the results.

If you are naturally an anxious individual, your systolic blood pressure (when the heart contracts) can rise as high as 30 mmHg. Because of this, it can be more difficult for your doctor to get an accurate measurement.

There are some factors that can play a role in white coat hypertension. If you’re an avid coffee drinker, heavy smoker, or if your bladder is full as you’re going to the doctor, this can skew the results of your blood pressure reading. These factors can all give the impression that you have white coat hypertension. In this case, I would consult the doctor about self-monitoring your blood pressure. You can use an ambulatory blood pressure device that takes your blood pressure every half an hour throughout the day.

How to Know if Your Blood Pressure Is Affected

Anyone can be affected by the white coat effect, but it’s far less common than you might think. It is so hard to diagnose white coat hypertension that your doctor may not even realize it as they’re taking your blood pressure. The only way to be sure is to compare the readings that are taken at the medical clinic with the readings that you have taken at home.

By simply measuring your blood pressure at home, it allows the doctor or nurse to see what your readings are like outside of the medical setting. The easiest way to view these readings is if you keep a personal record of all your blood pressure results. It can help to show whether there’s a pattern on a day-to-day basis.

Another option is to monitor your blood pressure on a 24-hour basis to see fluctuations throughout the day, if any. The device is a small, digital monitor that analyzes your blood pressure on a continuous basis from day to night. The device has its own memory, which is stored automatically. All you have to do is wear it.

On a side note, those who are diagnosed with white coat hypertension can actually go on to develop high blood pressure on a regular basis. It is imperative that you have your blood pressure checked regularly; anywhere from every six to 12 months is advisable. The reason why this is important is because if your blood pressure does begin to rise, you can take the proper steps to lower it.

Tips to Avoid White Coat Hypertension

Even though it’s still not fully understood, there are some techniques that you can use for white coat hypertension treatment.

You can practice stress reduction on a regular basis. If you are an anxious or nervous individual, this technique can help you relax in stressful situations. It can actually help you distinguish between whether you have naturally high blood pressure, or white coat hypertension.

As you may know, your salt intake can cause your blood pressure to rise. Cutting back on high-cholesterol foods may help in lowering blood pressure as well.

Hypnosis can be a relaxing and beneficial treatment that can be done at times other than when the doctor is taking your blood pressure. It allows you to take control of your blood pressure and deeply relax. If you combine hypnosis with the other two techniques, you can take complete control of your blood pressure and relax more every day, potentially helping you to overcome white coat hypertension.

Don’t Be in Denial

The biggest mistake you could make is not admitting that you get anxious or nervous at a medical clinic. If you do have white coat hypertension and not high blood pressure, it needs to be treated. If it’s not treated, you may encounter bigger complications down the road. You should always be monitoring your blood pressure, especially as you age. The longer you wait, the more dangerous it becomes. I know it might be nerve-racking, but the doctors are there to help you, not scare you.

Sources for Today’s Article:
“White coat hypertension (and white coat effect),” Blood Pressure UK web site; http://www.bloodpressureuk.org/BloodPressureandyou/Medicaltests/Whitecoateffect, last accessed April 16, 2015.
“How to Reduce Blood Pressure Naturally,” Uncommon Help web site; http://www.uncommonhelp.me/articles/reduce-high-blood-pressure/, last accessed April 16, 2015.
Sinatra, S., “White Coat Hypertension and High Blood Pressure Readings,” Dr. Sinatra web site, March 2, 2015; http://www.drsinatra.com/white-coat-hypertension-and-high-blood-pressure-readings.