Hypertensive symptom representations: A pilot study

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Approximately 40% of African Americans have hypertension (HTN). Up to 50% of persons with HTN experience symptoms they attribute to HTN. The beliefs African Americans ascribe to their symptoms have not been substantively described in research. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to describe the “representations” (meaning and emotions associated with symptoms) ascribed to hypertensive symptoms.

Data sources:

Twenty-six community-dwelling African Americans with hypertensive symptoms were identified from among 51 participants enrolled in a larger HTN study. Participants completed the Symptom Representation Questionnaire for each reported hypertensive symptom.


Twenty-six participants (51%) experienced at least one hypertensive symptom (e.g., headaches, dizziness, vision changes). Participants held neutral scores for the level of distress, and expected duration and consequences of their headaches, dizziness, and vision changes. Participants attributed HTN as a cause of their symptom(s) to a greater degree than HTN treatment. Strong symptom cure/control beliefs were reported among participants with headaches, dizziness, and vision changes.

Implications for practice:

The study results highlight areas that nurse practitioners should assess with hypertensive patients. Key assessment areas include (a) hypertensive symptom type and frequency; (b) HTN as a cause for symptoms; and (c) beliefs about cure/control of symptoms and patients’ corresponding self-management actions.

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