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Blood Pressure Rises When People See Doctors

Update Date: Mar 26, 2014 05:41 PM EDT

Going to the doctor can raise your blood pressure, according to a new study.

New research reveals that doctors routinely record blood pressure levels that are significantly higher than levels recorded by nurses, suggesting there really is the "white coat effect".

Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School found that recordings taken by doctors are significantly higher (by 7/4mmHg) than when the same patients are tested by nurses.

"Doctors should continue to measure blood pressure as part of the assessment of an ill patient or a routine check-up, but not where clinical decisions on blood pressure treatment depend on the outcome. The difference we noted is enough to tip some patients over the threshold for treatment for high blood pressure, and unnecessary medication can lead to unwanted side effects. Some patients may be erroneously asked to continue to monitor their own blood pressure at home, which can build anxiety. These inappropriate measures could all be avoided by the simple measure of someone other than a doctor taking the blood pressure recording," lead researcher Dr. Christopher Clark, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said in a news release.

"Researchers should also think carefully about how to account for this effect in studies that compare treatment by doctors and nurses. Some studies have concluded that nurses are better at treating hypertension, when in fact those findings could be down to this recording bias," said Clark.

The latest study involved 1,019 participants whose measurements had been taken by both doctors and nurses at the same visit.

"Our results were pooled from different settings across ten countries, so we can be confident that they can be generalized to any healthcare environment where blood pressure is being measured. These results were all from research trials - our next task will be to examine data from GP surgeries," added Clark.

"This interesting study forms part of our portfolio of primary care research examining factors which might need to be considered when doctors and other healthcare professionals undertake assessments of patient's risk of cardiovascular disease. Increasing doctor's awareness of factors which might affect the accurate assessment of blood pressure is of great importance since this is one of the commonest clinical assessments undertaken, and one where important decisions regarding a patient health and well-being may follow," researcher Professor John Campbell, Professor of General Practice and Primary Care at the University of Exeter Medical School, said in a statement.

The findings were published in the British Journal of General Practice.

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