Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a growing health concern in the U.S., mainly because of lifestyle factors. A poor diet, lack of exercise, and obesity are all contributing factors.
High blood pressure is easily treatable, but first you have to know if you are affected by it. Blood pressure is measured using a cuff that applies pressure to your arm or wrist. Unless you have one of these cuffs at home, the only time you take a reading is when you visit a healthcare provider.
Researchers at Stony Brook University and Columbia University wondered if occasional measurements at a doctor's office provided an accurate determination of whether someone suffered from high blood pressure.
They enlisted a group of patients who had normal readings on their infrequent measurements in a clinical setting and placed wearable monitors on them to measure blood pressure around the clock. They say they discovered that for some subjects, their blood pressure was outside the normal range during daily activities, even though it seemed normal at the doctor's office.
Reverse of 'white coat hypertension'
The researchers say it's the reverse of so-called “white coat hypertension,” when the slight stress of being in a doctor's office results in higher blood pressure readings. When blood pressure spikes during normal day-to-day activities, the researchers call it “masked hypertension.”
The only way to uncover masked hypertension is with around the clock monitoring, using a wearable device. The researchers say that compared to blood pressure measured infrequently in a clinic, ambulatory blood pressure is a better predictor of future heart disease.
In the study, nearly 16% of patients with normal clinic blood pressure were found to have “masked hypertension.” It was more common in men than women. Interestingly, it also affected younger, normal weight participants more than those who were older and overweight.
Debunking a widely held belief
“These findings debunk the widely held belief that ambulatory blood pressure is usually lower than clinic blood pressure,” said lead author Dr. Joseph Schwartz.
Schwartz said healthcare providers need to know that there appears to be a tendency for blood pressure during normal activities to be higher than clinic blood pressure in healthy patients who are being evaluated for high blood pressure during well-patient visits.
It's an important issue because high blood pressure, left untreated, can lead to more serious health conditions, such as heart attack and stroke.