Importance: Hypertension is very common, but guideline recommendations for hypertension have been controversial, are of increasing interest, and have profound implications.
Objective: To systematically assess the consistency of recommendations regarding hypertension management across clinical practice guidelines (CPGs).
Design, setting, and participants: This cross-sectional study of hypertension management recommendations included CPGs that had been published as of April 2018. Two point-of-care resources that provided graded recommendations were included for secondary analyses. Discrete and unambiguous specifications of the population, intervention, and comparison states were used to define a series of reference recommendations. Three raters reached consensus on coding the direction and strength of each recommendation made by each CPG. Three independent raters reached consensus on the importance of each reference recommendation.
Main outcomes and measures: The main outcomes were rates of consistency for direction and strength among CPGs. Sensitivity analyses testing the robustness were conducted by excluding recommendation statements that were described as insufficient evidence, excluding single recommendation sources, and stratifying by importance of recommendations.
Results: The analysis included 8 CPGs with a total of 71 reference recommendations, 68 of which had clear recommendations from 2 or more CPGs. Across CPGs, 22 recommendations (32%) were consistent in direction and strength, 18 recommendations (27%) were consistent in direction but inconsistent in strength, and 28 recommendations (41%) were inconsistent in direction. The rate of consistency was lower in secondary analyses. When insufficient evidence ratings were excluded, there was still substantial inconsistency, and a leave-one-out sensitivity analysis suggested the inconsistency could not be attributed to any single recommendation source. Inconsistency in direction was more common for recommendations deemed to be of lower importance (11 of 20 recommendations [55%]), but 17 of 48 high-importance recommendations (35%) had inconsistency in direction.
Conclusions and relevance: Hypertension is a common chronic condition with widespread expectations surrounding guideline-based care, yet CPGs have a high rate of inconsistency. Further investigations should determine the reasons for inconsistency, the implications for recommendation development, and the role of synthesis across recommendations for optimal guidance of clinical care.