What are the two things they almost always do when you visit your family doctor? They weigh you and check your blood pressure. You may not want to know what your weight is, especially if you ate too much the night before, but you’re probably eager to know what your blood pressure is. After all, that’s not something you check on a routine basis. Of course, you’ll be relieved if they tell you it’s normal – but what if they tell you it’s high? Should you worry about a single, high blood pressure reading?
Blood Pressure Goes Up in Response to Stress
Your blood pressure fluctuates in response to stress, exercise, caffeine intake and when you ate your last meal. A number of people have a condition called “white coat hypertension,” where their blood pressure goes up when they’re in a medical setting. After all, visiting a medical clinic with so many people walking around in white coats can be stressful.
If you have white coat hypertension, you may have normal blood pressure readings at home when you’re not in a strange and stressful environment. What’s more concerning is when you have a series of elevated blood pressure readings, usually three or more. At that point, a doctor will likely tell you that you have hypertension and recommend lifestyle changes or medications.
So, should you be concerned if you have a high reading only when you visit your doctor’s office, so-called white coat hypertension? At one time, white coat hypertension was thought to be a benign condition, a temporary blood pressure “blip” due to the stress and anxiety of being in a medical setting. More recent studies suggest white coat hypertension may not be as benign as originally thought.
Do You Need to Monitor Your Blood Pressure More Closely?
One study involving over 1400 adults between the ages of 25 and 74 found those that had elevated blood pressure readings only in a medical setting had a 2.5 times greater risk of developing sustained hypertension over the following ten years. Some people have elevated blood pressure readings not just in a doctor’s office but sporadically in other situations as well. This, too, is linked with a greater risk for developing high blood pressure.
What does this mean? If you have a high blood pressure reading occasionally at your doctor’s office, don’t chalk it up to stress. An isolated high blood pressure reading even under stressful circumstances means you need to monitor your blood pressure more closely since your risk for developing hypertension may be higher.
If you’re like most people, you don’t check your blood pressure very often, usually only when you visit your doctor for a physical. It’s not time-consuming or expensive to check your blood pressure at home using a home blood pressure monitor and it’s a good idea to check it more often if you’ve had a high reading at your doctor’s office. Keep track of the readings and show them to your doctor.
Why the Concern about Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure is a risk factor for a number of health problems including heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. Chronically high blood pressure also damages blood vessels and increases the risk for aneurysms, which can rupture with devastating consequences. Keeping track of your blood pressure is important since hypertension is a silent disease that doesn’t usually cause symptoms.
Can You Prevent High Blood Pressure?
Lifestyle changes do have an impact on blood pressure. One of the best ways to control your blood pressure is to exercise. It’s not surprising that aerobic exercise reduces blood pressure but a number of studies show resistance exercise does too. Exercise also helps with weight control. As you probably already know, obesity is a risk factor for hypertension.
Research also shows a DASH diet helps with blood pressure control. The DASH diet is similar to the Mediterranean diet. It emphasizes whole grains, fruits, fish, seeds, nuts, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. You’ll also read about the importance of reducing the amount of sodium in your diet. Not everyone has a blood pressure that’s impacted by dietary sodium but it’s still a good idea to cut back. Reducing stress using techniques such as meditation, yoga or deep breathing can also be helpful.
Certain foods also improve the way blood vessels function by helping them expand more easily. Some of these foods include dark chocolate, nuts, and garlic. It’s also a good idea to cut back on caffeine if you’ve had a high blood pressure reading.
Eat more potassium-rich fruits and vegetables. Potassium helps with blood pressure control. Interestingly, a study showed potassium not only lowers blood pressure, but it also reduces heart disease risk independently of its effect on blood pressure. Enjoy more potassium-rich foods – but talk to your doctor first. If you have kidney disease or are taking certain medications, you may need to limit the amount of potassium in your diet.
The Bottom Line
If you have a high blood pressure reading, even if it’s only at your doctor’s office, follow your pressures more closely and make the appropriate lifestyle changes to lower your risk for hypertension.
WebMD. “White Coat Hypertension Not Benign” 2009.
European Journal of Preventive Cardiology February 2007 vol. 14 no. 1 12-17.
American Heart Association. “Potassium and High Blood Pressure”
Curr Hypertens Rep. 2011 Aug;13(4):309-17. doi: 10.1007/s11906-011-0197-8.
Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2006 Mar;290(3): R546-52.