High Blood Pressure (cont.)

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White coat high blood pressure

A single elevated blood pressure reading in the doctor's office can be misleading because the elevation may be only temporary. It may be caused by a patient's anxiety related to the stress of the examination and fear that something will be wrong with his or her health. The initial visit to the physician's office is often the cause of an artificially high blood pressure that may disappear with repeated testing after rest and with follow-up visits and blood pressure checks. One out of four people that are thought to have mild hypertension actually may have normal blood pressure when they are outside the physician's office. An increase in blood pressure noted only in the doctor's office is called 'white coat hypertension.' The name suggests that the physician's white coat induces the patient's anxiety and a brief increase in blood pressure. A diagnosis of white coat hypertension might imply that it is not a clinically important or dangerous finding.

However, caution is warranted in assessing white coat hypertension. An elevated blood pressure brought on by the stress and anxiety of a visit to the doctor may not necessarily always be a harmless finding since other stresses in a patient's life may also cause elevations in the blood pressure that are not ordinarily being measured. Monitoring blood pressure at home by blood pressure cuff or continuous monitoring equipment or at a pharmacy can help estimate the frequency and consistency of higher blood pressure readings. Additionally, conducting appropriate tests to search for any complications of hypertension can help evaluate the significance of variable blood pressure readings.

Borderline high blood pressure

Borderline hypertension is defined as mildly elevated blood pressure higher than 140/90 mm Hg sometimes, and lower than that at other times. As in the case of white coat hypertension, patients with borderline hypertension need to have their blood pressure taken on several occasions and their end-organ damage assessed in order to establish whether their hypertension is significant.

People with borderline hypertension may have a tendency as they get older to develop more sustained or higher elevations of blood pressure. They have a modestly increased risk of developing heart-related (cardiovascular) disease. Therefore, even if the hypertension does not appear to be significant initially, people with borderline hypertension should have continuing follow-up of their blood pressure and monitoring for the complications of hypertension.

If, during the follow-up of a patient with borderline hypertension, the blood pressure becomes persistently higher than 140/ 90 mm Hg, an antihypertensive medication is usually started. Even if the diastolic pressure remains at a borderline level (usually less than 90 mm Hg, yet persistently above 85) treatment may be started in certain circumstances.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/17/2014

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