Background: The process of giving a patient a diagnosis may cause harm. The adverse effects of labeling, best documented for the diagnosis of hypertension, include increased absenteeism from work and lower earnings, increased depressive symptoms, and reduced quality of life. We tried to determine whether the diagnosis of hypertension affects perceptions about the time required to recover from common acute medical problems.
Methods: In an academic family practice clinic, equal numbers of patients with and without hypertension were asked to estimate how long it would take them to recover from an upper respiratory tract infection (URI), a urinary tract infection (UTI), and an ankle sprain now and 5 years ago (before the diagnosis of hypertension).
Results: Compared with patients who did not have hypertension, patients with hypertension estimated that it would take them twice as long, on average, to recover from a URI now (11.7 vs 6.0 days, P=.002) and in the past (10 vs 5.5 days, P=.02). These differences persisted after controlling for age, sex, race, and education. No significant differences were found for estimated recovery times for UTI or ankle sprain.
Conclusions: The diagnosis of hypertension may affect patients' perceptions of their ability to recover from unrelated acute illnesses. This may have implications for the way physicians choose to present information to patients.