High blood pressure at the doctor's office could signal heart risk

Does your blood pressure spike at the doctor's office, then drop when you leave?

Emory internist Dr. Sharon Bergquist says it happens all the time.

A patient comes into her clinic, sits down to get their blood pressure checks, and it's too high.

"Some people just don't like going to the doctor," Dr. Bergquistsays. "Some people rush to get to their appointment. Some people have trouble parking, hit traffic. For a whole host of reasons, when they arrive at the doctor's office, it seems to be consistently high. Yet, when they check it outside the doctor's office, they get normal readings."

Anxiety could be part of the problem. But, a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found people whose blood pressure spikes at the doctor's office are more than twice as likely to die from a heart attack or another cardiac event down the road.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Perlman School of Medicine found, if those same people were treated with medication to lower their blood pressure, they had no increased risk for heart disease, when compared with people whose blood pressure was normal.

Dr. Bergquist says the findings are a wakeup call.

"Typically, when we see white coat hypertension, we pay attention to it," she says. "We may ask a patient to start monitoring their blood pressure outside the office. This study shows we should definitely be doing that, and we're probably not doing that enough."

If your blood pressure is above normal, typically above 130/80, at the doctor's office, Dr. Bergquist says talk to your physician about it.

You may need to start checking your blood pressure at home or wear a 24-hour monitor.

Most people with high blood pressure, don't have noticeable symptoms.

"And that we need to be paying attention to high blood pressure in a more general way, outside the office, in the morning, at home, at work, not just in at the doctor's office," Bergquist says.