Individuals labelled as having hypertension tend to report poor self-rated health (SRH), but it is unclear whether this association is independent of actual hypertension, socioeconomic status and adiposity, and extends across racial and ethnic groups. In a cross-sectional study we compared hypertensive and normotensive individuals (N = 19,057) who varied in whether they had ever been labelled hypertensive. Blood pressure was measured in participants' homes and mobile examination centres in the United States as part of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988-1994. The main outcome measure was global SRH. Hypertensive labelling was associated with poorer SRH and was independent of established SRH predictors, antihypertensive medication use, body mass index, and hypertension status (adjusted odds ratio (OR) = 1.79, 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.61-1.99). Hypertension was also associated with poorer SRH (OR = 1.26; 95% CI 1.09-1.46) but this association was eliminated by adjustment for hypertensive labelling (OR 1.06; 95% CI 0.92-1.22). These effects were consistent across non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, and Hispanic subgroups. Individuals labelled hypertensive are more likely to have lower SRH and this labelling effect predominates over that of actual hypertension. Public health efforts to increase the number of individuals screened for high blood pressure may successfully detect the presence of hypertension but may also reduce health-related quality of life as measured by global SRH.