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How not to take blood pressure

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POSTED June 19, 2016 7:19 p.m.

DEAR DR. ROACH: Recently, I had my annual checkup and nervously had to wait a while. The doctor’s assistant came in and proceeded to take my blood pressure. She then looked at me disparagingly and said: “Do you always have a high blood pressure”? Of course, when she said this it probably doubled. Why can’t an assistant quietly enter the numbers into the laptop and let the doctor make the determination rather than leave the patient there wondering whether he or she is going to have a stroke at any minute? The doctor usually takes it before I’m about to leave, and it has lowered significantly. Is there a protocol? -- M.E.M.

ANSWER: That is a terrible story, one that illustrates exactly how blood pressure shouldn’t be taken. It often is the case that blood pressure is a bit high when first coming into a doctor’s office. Waiting a few minutes can help prevent misunderstanding the true blood pressure. For some people, taking their weight can increase blood pressure, so it’s recommended to check the blood pressure before measuring or discussing weight.

I also think physicians should double-check blood pressures themselves, especially in those with a history of hypertension. I was taught to check the blood pressure three times and take the average. (I warn people ahead of time that I check it three times on everyone, so they don’t think I am rechecking it because it’s too high.) A few minutes of reassurance and human contact can go a long way.

High blood pressure is one of the most common ailments for the general population. The booklet on it describes what it does and how it’s treated. Readers can order a copy by writing: Dr. Roach Book No. 104, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

  DEAR DR. ROACH: I am a 70-year-old man, somewhat overweight with high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, both controlled by medication. I try to donate blood regularly. I mentioned this to an acquaintance recently, and she claimed she had been told by her doctor that people over the age of 60 should not give blood. Supposedly, seniors who give blood increase their risk of cancer. She claims this is “the blood banks’ dirty little secret” about blood donation. I think she misunderstood her doctor; she is a cancer survivor, and I think he probably told her not to give blood because of her history. Who is correct? I know there is always a need for blood donors, but I don’t think they would hide a donation/cancer risk link.

  ANSWER: It absolutely is false that donating blood increases your risk for cancer. One study even suggested that frequent male donors may have decreased rates of some cancers, but there is no correlation between donating blood and increased risk of developing cancer.

  Healthy adults of any age may safely donate blood. People with serious heart disease may not donate for their safety; people with a history of cancer may be able to donate blood, depending on the type of cancer, the amount of time they have been cancer-free and the policies of the blood bank. Most blood banks accept people with a history of solid cancer, such as breast or prostate, if they have been considered cured for over a year.

  It has always been safe to donate blood in terms of risks to the donor, both infection and cancer.


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