Background: Despite the availability of a wide selection of effective antihypertensive treatments and the existence of clear treatment guidelines, many patients with hypertension do not have controlled blood pressure. We conducted a qualitative study to explore beliefs and perceptions regarding hypertension and gain an understanding of barriers to treatment among patients with and without diabetes.
Methods: Ten focus groups were held for patients with hypertension in three age ranges, with and without diabetes. The topic guides for the groups were: What will determine your future health status? What do you understand by "raised blood pressure"? How should one go about treating raised blood pressure?
Results: People with hypertension tend to see hypertension not as a disease but as a risk factor for myocardial infarction or stroke. They do not view it as a continuous, degenerative process of damage to the vascular system, but rather as a binary risk process, within which you can either be a winner (not become ill) or a loser. This makes non-adherence to treatment a gamble with a potential positive outcome. Patients with diabetes are more likely to accept hypertension as a chronic illness with minor impact on their routine, and less important than their diabetes. Most participants overestimated the effect of stress as a causative factor believing that a reduction in levels of stress is the most important treatment modality. Many believe they "know their bodies" and are able to control their blood pressure. Patients without diabetes were most likely to adopt a treatment which is a compromise between their physician's suggestions and their own understanding of hypertension.
Conclusion: Patient denial and non-adherence to hypertension treatment is a prevalent phenomenon reflecting a conscious choice made by the patient, based on his knowledge and perceptions regarding the medical condition and its treatment. There is a need to change perception of hypertension from a gamble to a disease process. Changing the message from the existing one of "silent killer" to one that depicts hypertension as a manageable disease process may have the potential to significantly increase adherence rates.