Suffering from “White Coat Syndrome?”

By: Jim Evans

Q:  I don’t get it.  Every time I go to the doctor for a checkup, my blood pressure goes up!  I’m not overweight, I exercise regularly, I eat a balanced diet, and I don’t have an unusual amount of stress in my life.   What’s going on?

A: We’re both in the same boat my friend because the same thing happens to me too.  If you’re like me, I’m usually running late to my appointment with the doctor anyway – hurrying up the stairs and rushing down the hall to get there on time after fighting the traffic to get there – so I have already created a certain amount of stress for myself by the time the nurse puts the blood pressure cuff on me. Often I’m still catching my breath, so my heart rate is probably higher than normal too.  Maybe you’re doing the same thing – I don’t know.     

Of course, something else might be a factor too – the dreaded White Coat Syndrome (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_coat_hypertension) .  It sounds terrible, but it’s really just a term to describe people who register high blood pressure readings as a result of stress from having their blood pressure measured by a doctor or other health professional.  I don’t THINK I am afflicted by this awful condition, but I must admit to a certain anxiety when I go to the doctor for anything – probably because I’m afraid that one of these days he’s actually going to find something wrong!

The important thing is that your blood pressure – and mine – returns to normal with repeated readings either while still at the doctor’s office or after returning home.  What bothers me is how quickly my doctor wants to put me on medication even when my blood pressure reading is only marginally high.

It sounds like you’re doing all the right things to keep your blood pressure in line, but you might just be experiencing some anxiety from visiting the doctor – perhaps a conditioned response to a previously unpleasant visit to the doctor when you were younger?  Or  going to the dentist when you were a kid?

In the meantime, continue to monitor your blood pressure regularly to make sure that “white coat” is, indeed, the culprit, and try to relax when you show up at your next doctor’s appointment.  Just take a deep breath and let that tension out.

Jim Evans is a 49-year veteran of the health and fitness industry and General Manager of Verdure.  Readers can send their questions about health and fitness to jim@verdurefitness.com. 

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