Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: High blood pressure in the doctor's office, but not at home

Q. I had been checking my blood pressure regularly for several years and it has never been high. But now multiple checks by my doctor have shown that my blood pressure is high. Why could that be?

A. Blood pressure that goes up when a person sees a doctor or nurse is called white-coat syndrome or white-coat hypertension. This condition is not as bad as blood pressure that is high all the time. But it is not as good as having normal blood pressure all the time, including during a doctor's visit.

If the diagnosis of high blood pressure is in question, wearing an ambulatory blood pressure monitor that records blood pressures throughout the day and night can show whether you have white-coat hypertension or sustained hypertension. Then you and your doctor can decide about exercise, diet, and other lifestyle changes or the need for medication.

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