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Four in 10 Finns have genes that cause "white coat syndrome", research finds

A graduate researcher found that high blood pressure readings at doctors' offices had genetic roots and weren’t all in patients' heads.

Sairaanhoitaja mittaa potilaan verenpainetta Päijät-Hämeen keskussairaalassa.
Image: Emilia Malin / Yle

The so-called "white coat syndrome", where a patient’s blood pressure skyrockets when measured in a medical facility, is not imaginary but is rooted in the individual’s genes, according to new research.

Helsinki University doctoral researcher Jenni Rimpelä examined biobank samples maintained by the Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital district HUS, and found that genes were responsible for patients' soaring blood pressure at the doctor’s office.

The syndrome affects roughly 38 percent of Finns, who find that their blood pressure crosses the recommended limit at the doctor’s office but not at home.

Rimpelä conducted analysis of HUS’ Genres research material. Patients involved in the study were subjected to a comprehensive genome analysis as well as periodic blood pressure measurements at home and at the doctor’s office.

The results were compared to other research material from Tampere University’s Dynamic data base as well as the National Institute for Health and Welfare’s Finriski 2007 and Health 2000 health surveys.

Altogether the researcher performed gene association research on the biobank data of more than 1,300 Finnish residents.

Syndrome associated with neurotic traits

The analysis found gene variants linked to the phenomenon, Rimpelä said.

"The most important finding was the SPG7 gene, which is linked to the elevated blood pressure associated with the white coat syndrome," the researcher said in a statement.

The SPG7 gene is believed to be a factor in hypertension and coronary artery disease. Researchers also found another gene, RASGEF1B, which was associated with another facet of the syndrome — a dramatically reduced blood pressure.

The research also found that the genes linked to the syndrome operate differently in men and women. When the results were compared to personality trait analyses, they revealed that the white coat syndrome is also associated with neurotic tendencies.

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