Q. It’s best to check your blood pressure after sitting quietly for 5 minutes. I got these instructions while participating in a 10-year Women’s Health Initiative study. At the doctor’s office, they tend to take your blood pressure after you have marched down the hall and you are answering questions. I worry that some of your readers may have been put on blood pressure pills unnecessarily because of this practice.
A. You are quite right that the stress of fighting traffic to arrive at the office in time, together with the hustle of getting you ready for the doctor, can contribute to elevated blood pressure. Some people get so anxious about having their blood pressure measured that it spikes much higher than it would normally be. This is called “white coat hypertension.”
The best way to deal with this may be to measure your blood pressure at home (after you have been sitting quietly for several minutes). Keep a record of the readings, and bring it to the doctor’s office along with your blood pressure monitor so that your physician can calibrate your machine against hers and get a sense of how you fare outside the office environment. Using the correct size blood pressure cuff is also critical for an accurate reading.
For more information on proper measurement technique and many non-drug approaches to lowering blood pressure as well as the main antihypertensive medications, you may want to consult our Guide to Blood Pressure Treatment. You might be surprised at how effective diet and exercise can be, if the right regimen is followed rigorously.