• hypertension;
  • systolic blood pressure;
  • patient awareness

Objective: Improved recognition of the importance of systolic blood pressure (SBP) has been identified as one of the major public health and medical challenges in the prevention and treatment of hypertension (HTN). SBP is a strong independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease but no information is available on whether patients understand the importance of their SBP level. The purpose of this study was to assess HTN knowledge, awareness, and attitudes, especially related to SBP in a hypertensive population.

Design/Setting/Patients: We identified patients with HTN (N=2,264) in the primary care setting of a large midwestern health system using automated claims data (International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision [ICD-9] codes 401.0–401.9). We randomly selected 1,250 patients and, after excluding ineligible patients, report the results on 826 completed patient telephone interviews (72% response rate [826/1,151]).

Main Results: Ninety percent of hypertensive patients knew that lowering blood pressure (BP) would improve health and 91% reported that a health care provider had told them that they have HTN or high BP. However, 41% of patients did not know their BP level. Eighty-two percent of all patients correctly identified the meaning of HTN as “high blood pressure.” Thirty-four percent of patients correctly identified SBP as the “top” number of their reading; 32% correctly identified diastolic blood pressure (DBP) as the “bottom” number; and, overall, only 30% of patients were able to correctly identify both systolic and diastolic BP measures.

Twenty-seven percent of patients with elevated SBP and DBP (as indicated by their medical records) perceived that their BP was high. Twenty-four percent of patients did not know the optimal level for either SBP or DBP. When asked whether the DBP or SBP level was more important in the control and prevention of disease, 41% reported DBP, 13% reported SBP, 30% reported that both were important, and 17% did not know.

Conclusions: These results suggest that, although general knowledge and awareness of HTN is adequate, patients do not have a comprehensive understanding of this condition. For instance, patients do not recognize the importance of elevated SBP levels or the current status of their BP control. An opportunity exists to focus patient education programs and interventions on the cardiovascular risk associated with uncontrolled HTN, particularly elevated SBP levels.