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Do You Suffer from White Coat Syndrome or Health Anxiety? You’re Not Alone.

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Does visiting your doctor’s office make your palms sweaty and heart race? You may be experiencing a phenomenon called white coat syndrome or white coat hypertension, which is the persistence of elevated blood pressure readings and/or elevated heart rate at your physician’s office. White coat hypertension is fairly common and affects roughly 25% of people. It is experienced more frequently among women, older patients, and those with mild hypertension.

A healthy blood pressure reading is around 120/80, those experiencing white coat syndrome typically experience a higher-than-normal reading due to anxiety. Your physician may wish to have you monitor your blood pressure for more regular and accurate readings at home to rule out real hypertension. Caffeine, stress, or a high sodium diet can also increase blood pressure. Persistent high blood pressure can lead to an increased risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and other cardiovascular conditions, so it’s important to make sure that your blood pressure is under control.

If white coat syndrome is something you struggle with, keep these few tips in mind before your next doctor’s visit:

  • Sometimes taking your mind off of having your blood pressure taking can help. Try to keep a positive mindset and take some deep breaths.
  • Practice stress relief like breath work or thinking of a place where you feel most at peace.
  • Sometimes taking your mind off of having your blood pressure taking can help. Start up a conversation with your care provider or try a distraction technique like wiggling your toes or thinking about the lyrics to your favorite song.

Health anxiety on the other hand, is something that can affect the quality of life by those who experience it. If you’re one who spends hours googling symptoms or fearing that you may have a serious or life-threatening illness, you may be dealing with health anxiety. Seen in 5-10% of people, this common condition affects men and women equally. According to Harvard Health, some telltale signs of health anxiety may include:

  • Having no symptoms, but still fearing you are sick.
  • Reassuring test results or consulting with a medical provider do not bring you peace of mind.
  • If you see a news story or social media post about a disease or illness and you start to worry that you may have it.

Overcoming health anxiety is possible! Nurse Practitioner, Ann Marie Albright with AdventHealth Medical Group Family Medicine in Erie shares that partnering with your provider is key.

“As providers, we want to get to know our patients, and we want them to come to us with their concerns and fears. Your primary care office should be the place our patients feel they can come frequently so they can share that weight of their anxiety with their provider,” said Ann Marie. “The provider can give reasoning to why they should or should not worry about what they are experiencing. With those experiencing health anxiety, patients can feel like they aren’t heard, or like they are crying wolf. Primary care is there to talk about it and find the answers to put it to bed or work it up if need be. But letting it balloon into something that’s more is a heavy weight to bare on your own. People know their bodies - the partnership is so powerful between patient and provider.”

Ann Marie encourages those who struggle with health anxiety to be open with their provider about their feelings. “When our patients are willing to be open and vulnerable with us, it’s so valuable to have that insight on how they are feeling. It can be exhausting to struggle with anxiety and isolating because patients want to feel heard and taken seriously. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. Instead of burying your feelings and keeping them to yourself, give them to someone who can help you hold that weight. Life is hard enough; you don’t have to deal with health anxiety alone.”

A few ways that Ann Marie partners with her patients who deal with health anxiety is to see them on a more frequent basis to help build a trusting and lasting relationship. Listening to her patients is something that she finds to be incredibly impactful for the patient and for herself in gaining the knowledge she needs to best move forward with their concerns. Many times, those who have health anxiety may also have underlying mild anxiety so it can be helpful to treat that as well. Whether it be through cognitive therapy, or through medications, anxiety and health anxiety are treatable!

Ann Marie Albright, NP

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