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White Coat Hypertension – Causes and Cures
You may definitely count me in as a card-carrying member of the White Coat Hypertension club. Statistics say that over 30% of the population have much higher blood pressure readings in a clinical environment. If you ask me, I think the percentage of the anxious, blood pressure-phobic club is closer to 50% (from the informal survey I’ve conducted). So why does this happen? And is there anything you can do about it?
What causes White Coat Hypertension?
I believe the main factor in white coat hypertension is good old fashioned anxiety. Anxiety is all about control issues and the overwhelming feeling of being judged. Because our blood pressure is an indicator of our overall health, there’s always that nagging feeling that we’re not doing enough to stay healthy. The doctor’s office is also a place that we get stuck with needles, hooked up to test equipment, poked and probed, etc. all the while naked and exposed – talk about feeling anxious! No wonder our blood pressure is high!
Just the fear of testing high will drive our blood pressure through the roof! Once we test high, our doctor is obligated to treat our high blood pressure and most of the time that’s with medication that we really don’t want. To many of us, there’s an overwhelming feeling of failure and a feeling that we can’t control our bodies and our own life. I know this may sound a little melodramatic, but if you have white coat hypertension, or high blood pressure, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.
If our blood pressure test is high we have to be monitored, maybe go on medication, and we then have to go to the doctor’s office more often – exactly where we DON’T want to be in the first place! We’re afraid the doctor is going to tell us we need to exercise more, stay away from those brownies and bacon, and basically take away all the joy from our lives. Let’s face it, after you get to a certain age, it’s all about those little treats we give ourselves and high blood pressure would definitely ruin that. On the other hand, we may have made some adjustments, sacrificed some of our guilty pleasures and we STILL are testing way too high in the Doctor’s office – it’s just not fair!
What can you do about White Coat Hypertension?
Just breathe. That’s right, breathing correctly and using some visualization exercises can help tremendously. First, I always let my doctor know that I’m very anxious – just the simple fact of admitting my fear helps in reducing my anxiety. Next I’ll take a couple of deep breaths and try to exhale slowly. I know this may be hard to do when you’re nervous but it really does help. It’s also really helpful if you visualize a scene in your mind’s-eye that brings you peace or contentment, something that takes you away from the anxious environment of the exam room. It’s all about disconnecting your anxious feelings from the process of having your blood pressure taken.
It’s really important to monitor your blood pressure at home on a consistent basis. Print out our free blood pressure chart and use it to record your blood pressure readings. Bring this chart with you and give it to your doctor to include with your medical records. Chances are that your doctor will see that your readings at home are much more normal and that you are keeping on top of your health and blood pressure. The readings also give your doctor a little leeway in treatment options because the printed proof shows that you are actively engaged in keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level.
That’s right – paced moderate deep breathing exercises have been clinically shown to reduce high blood pressure. Use our free breathing exercises to safely lower your high blood pressure and reduce your anxiety. If you’re already on high blood pressure medication the breathing exercises may help you to reduce the amount of medication you are taking. Always remember to talk to your doctor first before reducing your medication, it is VERY important to NEVER stop taking your high blood pressure meds without your doctor’s approval.
Get a good blood pressure monitor
If you don’t already have a good monitor, please get one and use it on a regular basis. The monitors with the traditional cuff seem to be the most accurate, I’ve never had good luck with the monitors that fit around the wrist. It’s not necessary to get a really expensive model, I think my self-inflating cuff model was around $65 or so. The added benefit of taking your pressure on a regular basis is that it also desensitizes you a bit from the process and that will lead you to lower pressures in the doctor’s office.
In closing I’d like to point out that I’m not a doctor and my intention is not to give out medical advice, the above tips are just from my own experience dealing with White Coat Hypertension and I hope you find them helpful. If you have any tips you’d like to share, please feel free to comment. Take care, Joel