What is White Coat Syndrome?

Known as the silent killer, hypertension is a disease that chooses no gender or age.

It is commonly characterized by headaches, nausea, and fatigue. According to the Center for Disease Control,  116 million adults are afflicted with this disease, while 3.5% of children aged 18 and below are affected in the United States alone. Major lifestyle choices are top factors in the prevalence of this disease, such as smoking, sedentary lifestyles, stress, and the regular consumption of salty food.

Hypertension catches someone off guard at work, during exercise, or while doing something routine. However, some people have been observed to have higher blood pressure only when they are inside a clinic or in the presence of a medical professional. White coat syndrome is defined as rising blood pressure in the presence of medical doctors, aptly named after the most recognizable garment they wear, which is a white coat.

The causes of it seem odd at first, but they can be traced back to something as simple as being anxious around doctors or even nurses. However, it is not always caused by anxiety around medical professionals since it could be an indicator of a more serious belying condition. It does not also necessarily mean one has hypertension, although it’s best to get properly diagnosed by a doctor.

What is white coat syndrome?

White coat syndrome is a phenomenon where a person experiences higher blood pressure when they are in the presence of medical facilities. Whether it is in clinics, hospitals, or a doctor’s office, irregularities in their blood pressure occur but will return to normal once they leave. Among those with high blood pressure at the doctor’s office, 15 to 30% of them will have white coat syndrome.

Not everyone who has hypertension will have white coat syndrome or vice versa, but there is another condition that is called masked hypertension, wherein the blood pressure is normal when you are around a doctor but then becomes higher when you are elsewhere. Knowing how your blood pressure behaves or acts is important as it may imply other health problems or even impede your daily life. You can learn and understand how blood pressure works if you enter hypertension clinical trials.


Being anxious during a doctor’s office is not something to be surprised about. It is quite normal to have irrational fears and thoughts while in that office. This can normally cause a spike in blood pressure, but there can be other causes for white coat syndrome as well.

Other factors may involve specific consequences that occur on the day of a doctor’s visit. Some of them include:

  • The time of visit to the doctor.
  • Whether you have taken the appropriate amount of sleep.
  • External factors such as pollution and noise.
  • Emotional and mental state during a doctor’s visit.
  • Recent trauma experienced I.E. grief or an accident.
  • Stress at work.
  • A recent emergency.

With all these things listed, white coats are not the only trigger point for the white coat syndrome. It depends largely on recent experiences and particular consequences.

Doctors have also listed having consumed fast food or food high in sodium as a factor of white coat syndrome, and even something such as having drunk coffee in the previous two hours can result in higher blood pressure.

Blood pressure will return to normal after a while, but doctors may still remain concerned about sudden spikes of blood pressure. White coat syndrome is not to be mistaken as a temporary and momentary spike in blood pressure but as a warning of something much more serious. It should be closely observed how often these spikes occur and how long they persist, as these periodic spikes will cause damage to the heart.

It can be perceived as no more than a fight or flight response to have your blood pressure rise during a routine check-up, especially if you happen to be concerned with the results.

As white coat syndrome is categorized as a type of hypertension, actual cases of hypertension can be a big concern to the body. Studies have shown that white coat syndrome is still heavily linked to deaths that concern the cardiovascular system. In serious cases, hypertension can lead to an unhealthy heart that is more susceptible to health concerns such as:

  • stroke
  • heart attack
  • heart failure
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Other cardiovascular conditions

Takeaway (Conclusion/Learnings)

White coat syndrome may seem like a phony diagnosis, but it goes to show how easy it is for our bodies to readily change at a snap of a finger, a change that can lead to very dire consequences. It is much safer for you to pay much more attention to the changes that occur in your body and to report it readily to your healthcare provider, rather than avoid them because you are afraid of the results. Those results can be the difference between life and death.

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