White coat syndrome

A lot of attention is paid to the now well known syndrome called Munchhausen or Munchhausen by proxy. Munchhausen syndrome is when a person makes themselves sick in order to get attention from medical professionals. Munchhausen by proxy is when that person gets someone else sick, like their spouse or child, through poisoning or other methods in order to get attention for themselves from medical professionals. Usually, those who suffer from Munchhausen are very knowledgeable about medical terminology, treatments and diseases and enjoy being in a medical or hospital environment. There are countless movies, television shows and magazine articles all dedicated to the discussion and exposure of the disorder. But what do you hear about White Coat Syndrome—a psychological problem that is almost the opposite of Munchhausen?

White coat syndrome is a disorder that causes a patient to have all the symptoms of high blood pressure, but only when he is in the office of his primary care physician or other doctor. When the sufferer of White Coat Syndrome takes his or her blood pressure reading anywhere else—at home, at the pharmacy, anywhere, their blood pressure will be completely normal. Once the patient steps into the primary care physician’s office, their anxiety so overwhelms them that their heart rates increase and it gives a false reading of hypertension. It is not necessarily true that the white coat a doctor wears is the actual cause of the anxiety, but the symptom is named for that iconic piece of clothing.

There are no similar factors or attributes in those who suffer from White Coat Syndrome, so there are no identifiable traits that can indicate whether or not a person will suffer from White Coat Syndrome. Even some patients who suffer anxiety at their physician’s office do not necessarily have symptoms of hypertension while in the office. There is some discussion of the possibility that an improper cuff size from the physician’s office might be behind some of the White Coat Syndrome cases. When blood pressure measuring cuffs are applied to a patient’s arm and they begin to squeeze the arm, many patients feel moderate anxiety. If a cuff is too small, the anxiety will be increased because the patient may begin to feel pain and extreme anxiety about the cuff causing damage to their arm.

If your physician suspects that you might suffer from White Coat Syndrome and have anxiety induced elevated hypertension numbers, he or she may ask you to take blood pressure readings regularly while at home. For many patients, this shows the true nature of the patient’s possible hypertension.

If you suffer from White Coat Syndrome, there are many things you can do to reduce your anxiety and maybe even get over the syndrome altogether.

Meditation: Meditation classes can help you learn how to moderate your breathing and fight anxiety. That can keep you calm while you are in the office of your physician. Of course, it can also reduce your anxiety in other areas of your life as well.

Relaxation: Relaxation techniques like visualization can help you take a mental vacation while in the office of your doctor. This will allow you to focus on something other than where you are and can help your heart rate remain stable.

Therapy: If relaxation and meditation do not help, then some appointments with a therapist may be your answer. A therapist can help you get over any doctor-induced anxiety you may have and can help you get over the fear of the blood pressure monitor cuff. They may also be able to prescribe medication to help you get through the ordeal.

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Last updated on Mar 6th, 2010 and filed under Cardiovascular Disorders. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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