Studies have shown that labeling patients as “hypertensive” has some negative effects. But a new study has found that informing patients that they have prehypertension as part of a message designed to prevent hypertension does not seem to be harmful.

However, labeling patients as prehypertensive does not seem to be helpful, either. The study found no evidence that it motivates people to adopt recommended lifestyle changes that help prevent hypertension.

“The most important lesson from this study may be that a clinical strategy currently plays a limited role in the prevention of hypertension,” the study researchers said.

A person’s lifetime risk of hypertension is estimated to be 90 percent in the United States. Therefore, almost all Americans are prehypertensive, according to the study.

Population-level strategies (e.g., sodium reduction in the food and restaurant industry and efforts to combat obesity and physical inactivity) hold much more promise for preventing hypertension.

1. Viera AJ, Lingley K, Esserman D. Effects of labeling patients as prehypertensive. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine 2010; 23: 571–583. (open access)