White Coat Hypertension: January 6, 2014

Regular wellness checks are routinely encouraged, but for some people that act of going to the doctor triggers a response, making their blood pressure soar. It may be all in their head, but doctors recognize it as a very real syndrome.

“White coat hypertension has been defined as the person who comes into the physician’s office and the blood pressure is elevated, but when they go back home or outside the physician’s office it’s within the normal range,” says Dr. Gary Goforth, family practitioner with Lee Memorial Health System.

It’s more common than you might think - for some patients, their numbers go up the minute they walk through the door.

“Some people say it’s the doctors white coat that makes people nervous and their blood pressure goes up, so we have our nurses take it, but it still goes up for them too,” says Dr. Goforth.

“I go twice a year so it doesn't bother me too much,” says Hanne Williams.

But Williams can see why the pressure gets to some of her friends.

“Especially when you’re older. People go to the doctor, they get anxious and their blood pressure would be higher than normal,” says Williams.

The challenge is getting a true picture so that people who need treatment get it. If white coat hypertension is suspected, doctors will try other methods to get an accurate read on their patients.

“We always say you need to get multiple readings on different days to confirm you have high blood pressure. If they have a device that they can measure it accurately I’ll just have them check it at home and have them bring those numbers,” says Dr. Goforth.

It’s information that could prove critical in diagnosing and treating a very serious health condition; and getting the right read on hypertension may actually be a stress-reliever.