The American Dental Association recommends that dentists check the blood pressure of all patients at least once a year and patients on hypertensive medication at each visit. This is because having high blood pressure increases the risk for having a heart attack or stroke during the dental procedure.
In my office, I expected the most difficult part of taking a patient’s blood pressure was going to be integrating it into the visit. I have come to discover that the most difficult part of taking blood pressures is getting some patients to allow my staff to do the procedure.
Every day in the office, I have at least one patient who doesn’t want us to take their blood pressure. Initially I thought this was because they either didn’t want us to know they have high blood pressure or because they follow the adage, “what I didn’t know won’t hurt me.” Neither seemed reasonable to me, because I was doing this for their health.
As this occurred more and more, I came to realize some patients experience anxiety having their blood pressure taken, similar to the anxiety one feels when taking a test in school. After doing some research, I discovered there are medical articles putting a name on the avoidance of having one’s blood pressure taken. It’s called Blood Pressure Phobia, or BPP.
BPP is different than white coat syndrome (an increase in blood pressure in the presence of a health care provider in a medical setting). White coat syndrome presumes that a person’s blood pressure rises because of the anxiety of the medical visit. BPP is the avoidance of having one’s blood pressure taken because of the social and psychological stigma with having high blood pressure. Those implications include the possible need for medication, embarrassment because their diet may be responsible for the hypertension or just the anxiety of finding out their blood pressure is not normal.
The problem with BPP is that just because you don’t know you have hypertension doesn’t lessen the consequences of hypertension. So if you become anxious at the thought of having your blood pressure taken, it’s time to have an open and honest discussion about your feelings with your health care provider.