Table of Contents
Cataracts and glaucoma are not the only health problems that test differently at the doctor's office. There are countless other conditions that exhibit some kind of white coat effect, the body's reaction to the presence of a doctor.
The white coat effect is named after the expectation, at least in North America, that doctors are "supposed" to wear white coats. When doctors come in to see their patients without their white coats, even if it is to minimize the transfer of microorganisms from one exam room to the next, patients are less comfortable and less confident in the doctor.
The most famous example of the "white coat effect" is blood pressure. Most people have higher blood pressure when their pressure is measured by a doctor in a white coat. As a result, some researchers believe, doctors tend to hand out too many prescriptions for high blood pressure medicine. Other conditions that show a similar effect include:
- Allergies. People who expect to test positive for allergens sometimes develop a reaction to the test before it is given.
- Hearing loss. Patients who expect to be found to have hearing loss are less likely to hear tones.
- Muscle weakness. Patients who believe they will be told they have suffered a stroke on one side of the brain may experience loss of muscle tone on one side of the body, and not necessarily the side of the body that would become weak due to the stroke they think they may have had.
- Stomach aches. Particularly in children who are bullied by other children, the expectation of having a stomach will produce a stomach ache.
In fact, for abdominal pain, chest pain, cough, constipation, dizziness, fainting, insomnia, numbness, shortness of breath, tingling, and unexpected weight loss, the body behaves differently once you get in to see the doctor, and a physical cause cannot be found nearly 85% of the time. That doesn't mean that the correct diagnosis is "it's all in your head." Some symptoms are simply vague, and they tend to appear when they are expected. They may actually have a physical cause that the doctor cannot determine. Or they may be psychosomatic. The doctor simply cannot find out even with an investment in expensive medical tests and a great deal of the doctor's time.
Some conditions will disappear at the doctor's office under the same circumstances.