White coat hypertension (WCH) is a type of high blood pressure. It is blood pressure that is high when it’s measured in the doctor’s office.  But it isn’t high when it is measured at home or away from a healthcare setting. For WCH, high is defined as between 130/80 mm Hg and 160/100 mm Hg.

It is called “white coat” hypertension because doctors and nurses often wear white coats. It is thought to be caused by the stress or anxiety that some people feel in a doctor’s office. Stress can cause the body to release hormones that raise the heart rate and blood pressure. This effect is temporary. The blood pressure returns to normal after a while. This usually happens within a few hours of leaving the doctor’s office.

If your doctor thinks you have WCH, you will be asked to track your blood pressure at home. Sometimes, you may have to wear a blood pressure monitor. This is worn 24 hours a day while you go about your daily life. It even measures your blood pressure while you sleep. If these readings are normal, it could mean you have WCH.

If you have WCH, your doctor will recheck your blood pressure at least once a year. You usually do the home monitoring again, too. Doctors used to think that WCH was not a harmful condition. But recent studies show that people with WCH may have a higher risk of heart disease than people with normal blood pressure. So, your doctor may also ask you to make some lifestyle changes. Changes that are good for your blood pressure and heart include:

  • Stop smoking
  • Stop drinking alcohol or only drink alcohol in moderation
  • Get enough exercise
  • Eat healthy
  • Get to and stay at a healthy weight

Take white coat hypertension as a sign to take good care of yourself – its time!