Health Watch -- Beware the White Coat!

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Your blood pressure reading at the doctor's office may be alarming, but it may not be a danger sign.

Few people enjoy going to the doctor's office. Even if you don't feel uncomfortable about doctors, there's all that waiting, insurance paperwork and nervousness about what the doctor might find. As a result, your blood pressure may be higher when you're in the doctor's office than it is the rest of the time. Doctor's call this "white coat hypertension."

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic in Florida recently reported that a high blood pressure reading in the doctor's office may not be a cause for concern. They followed patients who had a high blood pressure reading in the doctor's office with 24-hour monitoring and found that away from the doctor, patients' pressure was much lower. Although the patients all had systolic pressures above 200 at the doctor's office -- which is considered severe -- only about 5 percent of these patients actually had seriously high blood pressure. About 7 percent of the patients with severe high blood pressure at the doctor's office actually had normal blood pressure when they were away from the office. The researchers say doctors shouldn't base a hypertension diagnosis and treatment on a single measurement at the doctor's office. It may take more monitoring to confirm the diagnosis and prescribe appropriate treatment.

Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say home monitoring with a semi-automatic device can help you keep track of your blood pressure. Talk to your doctor if your home readings are significantly different from what you see in the doctor's office.