White coat syndrome, or white coat hypertension, is a phenomenon wherein a person experiences a sudden spike in blood pressure whenever he is in a medical setting or in the presence of doctors, medical staff and other associated health practitioners. However, his blood pressure is perfectly normal in most other settings. This condition affects as many as one in every five people in the United States. Now, research has come out from the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) showing that people who suffer from white coat syndrome are twice as likely to die from heart disease.
Heart disease is a condition that kills about 647,000 people in the United States each year, accounting for around one in every four deaths in the country. One of its key indicators includes hypertension, or high blood pressure. While previous studies have suggested that as long as the high blood pressure of people with white coat syndrome didn’t recur outside of a medical setting, it probably shouldn’t increase a person’s risk of developing heart disease. But the UPenn study has suggested otherwise.
White coat syndrome can keep your blood pressure high hours after doctor’s appointment
The UPenn researchers conducted a review and analysis of 27 previous studies that included over 60,000 patients. The study was led by Jordana B. Cohen, an assistant professor of epidemiology at UPenn and an assistant professor of medicine at UPenn’s university hospital. The results of their study were published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
In order to properly distinguish which patients have white coat syndrome, Cohen’s team made a distinction between them and others who merely had a “white coat effect.” People with white coat syndrome sustain their high blood pressures even after their meeting with doctors. Meanwhile, the blood pressure of people with a “white coat effect” returns to normal a while after their appointments with medical practitioners.
From their analysis, they found that patients who had untreated white coat hypertension were 36 percent more at-risk of developing heart disease in their lifetimes. Furthermore, they had a 33 percent increased risk of dying from any cause and had a 109 percent increased risk of dying from heart disease.
“Our findings underscore the importance of identifying people with this condition,” said Cohen. “We believe individuals with isolated in-office hypertension – those who are not taking blood pressure medication – should be closely monitored for transition to sustained hypertension, or elevated blood pressure both at home and the doctor’s office.”
White coat syndrome can be manageable
If you find out after an appointment with your medical practitioner that you do have white coat syndrome, there are things that you can do to manage your blood pressure levels.
Certain relaxation techniques can work to calm yourself down. If you feel like your blood pressure is starting to go up even before you enter your doctor’s office, breathing exercises or taking a quick guided meditation session may be able to help. Before you enter the office, take a moment for yourself to try and calm your nerves. (Related: Using drugs to curb high blood pressure? It might lead to gut problems.)
Sometimes, the setting can be part of the problem. A hospital is filled with nurses, receptionists and doctors all running around dealing with different people’s health concerns. A change of scenery might be able to help you out. Raise this concern with your doctor, and see if your appointment can be moved to a quieter area of the hospital.
Other ways to control your blood pressure involve practicing lifestyle changes, which can maintain your overall heart health. These changes include losing weight, exercising more regularly, limiting salt intake and quitting smoking.