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White coat syndrome is a fear reaction that people have to doctors and nurses (hence the white coat) that causes their blood pressure to spike when one of these professionals takes readings. This presents several challenges both for the patient and doctor and also for the life insurance underwriter.

When talking with a client who has white coat syndrome they will tell you that in fact they aren’t really scared of the doctor or nurse, but something about them strapping the cuff on causes them to react. They can go before or after to a local drug store that has a blood pressure monitor and when they do it themselves, they come out with normal readings.

One of the challenges for a life insurance underwriter is determining if it is true white coat syndrome, in other words, is the doctor’s office the only place where blood pressure spikes? One of the concerns is that the “white coat” is really just an anxiety reaction that could also be duplicated in other normal, everyday occurrences such as traffic jams, being pulled over by a policeman, meeting with a banker or perhaps being called in to discuss something with your supervisor at work. Is it really just restricted to the doctor’s office?

Doctors will sometimes test patients by providing them a cuff so that they can provide a more comprehensive study of their blood pressure outside the office. There is also a 24 hour monitor that will provide readings over a full day so a person doesn’t have to consciously be concerned with the test or compiling the results. This will help the doctor determine if the situation is truly isolated or if they patient actually should consider treatment because readings pop up as high in other situations.

Blood pressure, of course, is of concern to both doctors and life insurance underwriters because it is a risk factor for heart attacks and stroke. High blood pressure or even borderline high blood pressure should be monitored and treated if the elevation warrants.

Bottom line. Blood pressure is worth paying attention to. High readings at your doctor’s office should always be checked out in other ways to determine if it is a white coat anomaly or the tip of a dangerous iceberg.