White Coat Syndrome

Does the thought of going to the doctors office intimidate you?

Going to the doctor’s office can be a stressful time for anyone from children to adults. Babies and small children usually associate the pediatrician’s office with painful shots.  And adults usually cringe at the thought of going to the dentist.  All those medieval-looking torture devices they call “medical instruments” are daunting.  Many people physically feel tension rising a the thought of going to the doctor.  This type of anxiety has been named White Coat Syndrome.  Certainly, this condition is named after the traditional long white lab coats worn by many healthcare providers.

White Coat syndromeWhite Coat Syndrome

White coat syndrome is a true medical diagnosis.  It results in a measurable elevation in blood pressure (or hypertension), outside the patient’s normal range.  Elevated blood pressure is the body’s natural response to stress and anxiety.  Picture the feeling that you get before a big work meeting or before public speaking.  But in this case, it is triggered by visiting a doctor. Most visits to the doctor are due to an underlying problem such as pain, nausea, trauma, or another negative situation.  All of which can generate quite a bit of stress for a patient!

It can be difficult to actually diagnose this condition.  The issue is that the health care professional diagnosing the condition is also the trigger causing the symptoms. Traditional hypertension is elevated blood pressure that occurs in many scenarios.  White coat hypertension occurs just in the physician’s office or leading up to an appointment.  A third condition, called masked hypertension, can also result. In masked hypertension, the patient exhibits normal blood pressure readings at the doctor’s office and elevated readings in other settings.

New Studies

So what does this all mean? Physicians are studying the lasting effect of these momentary periods of elevation in blood pressure in connection to long-term health concerns. Physicians now believe that white coat hypertension could be a precursor to real hypertension. One study showed evidence linking white coat hypertension to an increased risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and other cardiovascular conditions. These same long-term problems remain a potential result of masked hypertension as well.

What should you do?

What can you do if you experience elevated hypertension when visiting your doctor’s office? First of all, try to relax.  Knowing that you may experience increased blood pressure when at the doctor’s offices can become its own source of anxiety. In other words, worrying that your blood pressure may rise when at the doctor’s office may actually cause more anxiety.  Consequently, your blood pressure increases.  Let your physician know if you are feeling anxious or worried.  Anxiety can stem simply from the unknown.  Communicating your anxiety level to your physician will cue them to talk you through the procedure or examination.  In turn, this may greatly reduce the amount of stress you are experiencing. Shifting the conversation to discuss things that bring you joy, not stress, may be very effective.  Try talking with your doctor about your new job, new puppy, or the color of the exam room ceiling!

Most importantly….breathe. Utilizing simple calming techniques are very helpful.  Try deep breathing, or singing songs in your head.  These can help lower stress levels and reduce hypertension.

Kansas City Foot and Ankle

At Kansas City Foot and Ankle we have numerous painless treatment option.  And we will do what it takes to help reduce anxiety without sacrificing treatment outcome. And for those treatments that require a little, or a lot, of pain, simply talk to your treating physician.  We will be happy to help walk you through the exam or procedure with as little stress as possible.  Call Kansas City Foot and Ankle today!