Determinants of the white-coat effect in normotensives and never-treated mild hypertensives

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The prognostic significance of the white-coat effect (WCE) is unclear. Knowledge of the predictors of the WCE may help illuminate the clinical significance of this phenomenon. The purpose of this study was to (i) compare characteristics of subjects demonstrating a WCE, those not demonstrating a WCE, and those demonstrating a reverse WCE and (ii) determine clinical features that may influence the size of the WCE. Forty-one subjects with normotension or mild hypertension who had never been treated with antihypertensive medications were recruited for the study. All subjects underwent a battery of anthropometrical measurements and clinic blood pressure (BP) measurements. To calculate arterial compliance, impedance cardiography was used to measure resting stroke volume in each subject. All subjects performed a laboratory mental stress protocol to determine the 'size of the BP reactivity. Ambulatory blood pressure (ABP) profiles were studied in each subject with the use of an oscillometric ABP recorder. White-coat effect was determined by subtracting the awake period of the ambulatory systolic blood pressure (SBP) from the clinical SBP. Subjects were grouped according to the size of their WCE. Those who showed a WCE of 5 mmHg and above were assigned to the WCE group; those who showed a WCE of between -5 and 5 mmHg were assigned to the no white coat effect (NWCE) group; those who exhibited a WCE of -5 mmHg and lower were assigned to the reverse white-coat effect (RWCE) group. Subjects with a positive WCE had significantly higher body mass index (BMI) than those without a WCE and those with a RWCE. The WCE group had significantly higher clinic SBP and heart rate (HR) than the RWCE group. Arterial compliance was significantly lower in the WCE group as compared to the NWCE group and the RWCE group. The three groups had comparable ABP profiles. In terms of BP variability, the increase in SBP in response to mental stress did not differ among the three study groups nor did the 24-hour and awake BP variability. For the sample as a whole, clinic HR and clinic-ambulatory SBP difference were higher and arterial compliance were lower in women than in men. Furthermore, clinic SBP significantly correlated with the systolic WCE (r = 0.40, P = 0.009). When men and women were analyzed separately, the correlation between clinic SBP and the systolic WCE was significant in women (r = 0.63, P = 0.001) but not in men (P = 0.95). Multiple linear regression showed that sex (P=0.013) and clinical SBP (P=0.003) were the only two variables that significantly influenced the systolic WCE. These two variables together accounted for 29% of the variation in the systolic WCE. In conclusion sex and clinic BP are two major determinants of the WCE. The results of this study indicate that WCE is not related to higher stress reactivity or higher BP variability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)443-454
Number of pages12
JournalClinical and Experimental Hypertension
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2003


  • Ambulatory blood pressure
  • Reactivity
  • White-coat effect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Internal Medicine


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