Last time I went to the doctor for a check-up, my blood pressure was 140 over something. I was shocked - I’ve always been a 110, 120 kinda gal. She took two more readings and it went down - into the 130s. Reluctant to let me leave with this sort of reading, we went on with the other stuff, and finally with reading number four I was down to 126. Good enough, but not great.
I couldn’t understand this change in my blood pressure. Worse, I couldn’t think of any lifestyle changes I could make to improve it: I eat a healthy diet, not a lot of salt, not too much booze, quite a lot of exercise and so on.
Concerned, I ordered a wrist cuff blood pressure monitor on the internet, so I could keep an eye on the numbers. The monitor arrived in the post, and I tried it out, several times. But it didn’t work very well - nothing could make it go above 114. It was usually hovering between 100 and 110. I even tried it when the kids were fighting - still no good. This was rather disappointing because even though it only cost $50, it was rated the best in testing by Consumer Reports (CHOICE’s American counterpart).
A few weeks later we had some workplace health check-ups, so I took my monitor along to try it out against a proper machine, just to see how wrong it was. Voila, straight up to 136 - same as the professional one. Back at my desk 10 minutes later, it was back down to 110ish.
The most likely explanation was white-coat hypertension: having a high blood pressure reading in a clinical setting, which drops shortly after leaving.
Affecting as many as one in four people, it has been under-recognised, with some patients unnecessarily prescribed medication to lower blood pressure. But when blood pressure is in fact normal, medication could make it drop too low, causing problems like fainting and fatigue. These days, after high blood pressure readings, doctors may utilise 24-hour blood pressure monitoring away from the clinic before prescribing medication - and if they don’t, you should ask for it.
While it’s a good idea to have regular checks for blood pressure at the doctor’s, having your own blood pressure monitor as well is pretty convenient. And if it turns out your hypertension was the white-coat variety, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on it anyway: there is concern that it may indicate a risk of developing high blood pressure as a long-term condition.
Just make sure the monitor is a good one - you don’t want false assurance that all is OK when it’s actually not. Our blood pressure monitors test is a good place to start when you’re looking for recommendations.
Do you suffer from white-coat hypertension? Have you tried home blood pressure monitoring? Share your story in the comments below.