High blood pressure is a serious problem. It raises your risk for heart trouble… and it can raise your insurance rates, too. Once you’ve been labeled with this problem, it stays on your medical records for good. And it can haunt you like the infamous “Scarlet Letter.”
That’s why it’s so important to get an accurate blood pressure reading – and a true one. But a common problem has left untold thousands – possibly millions – thinking they have high blood pressure when they actually don’t.
The problem is called “white coat syndrome.”
White coat syndrome is simply feeling tense and nervous at the doctor’s office… which raises your blood pressure to a level that’s above normal. When the doctor or nurse takes your blood pressure, this abnormally high reading is what goes into your record.
You could even wind up taking medications you don’t need… for a problem you don’t really have.
A recent Spanish study points out just how widespread this problem is.
The researchers looked at 8,295 people with high blood pressure that didn’t seem to respond to blood pressure pills. Because they didn’t seem to respond to medications, they were all taking at least three different drugs to lower their blood pressure.
In the doctor’s office, their blood pressure read at least 140/90… even with all the drugs. The average reading was 161/88.
Then researchers tested the subjects’ blood pressure periodically over 24 hours – as they went about a normal day. Their average blood pressure reading was significantly lower – 134/75. In fact, more than a third – 37% – actually had normal blood pressure readings.(1)
In other words, almost 4 out of every 10 of these people were receiving aggressive treatments they really didn’t need. They were just tense or nervous at the doctor’s office. (And who isn’t?)
So how do you avoid white coat syndrome? Here are a few tips…
Don’t let the nurse or doctor take your blood pressure immediately after bringing you into the examining room. You should be able to sit quietly for a few minutes before they take a reading. And be sure to sit in a chair – not on the examining table.
Sit comfortably, leaning against the backrest. Both your feet should be flat on the floor. Your arm shouldn’t be hanging limply at your side when the nurse takes a reading. It should be supported – on a table or armrest – at heart level.
The cuff is also important. When it comes to blood pressure cuffs, one size does not fit all. The cuff should be fitted to the size of your arm. And it should be on bare skin, not wrapped around your shirtsleeve.
If the first reading is high, ask to have a second reading taken after a few minutes of quiet. Your blood pressure may also measure differently in your other arm.
All of these steps can help lower your readings to more normal levels. But there’s one other step that’s even better.
Monitor your blood pressure at home.
Modern home blood pressure monitors are easy to use, reasonably priced… and the best way to be sure you don’t fall victim to white coat syndrome. If you check your own blood pressure regularly, you’ll know immediately if your doctor’s reading is out of line.