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Healthc Policy. 2010 May;5(4):e157-75.

Anthropological approach of adherence factors for antihypertensive drugs.

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Anthropologist, Centre de recherche cultures, santé, sociétés (CReCSS), Université Paul Cézanne, Aix-Marseille, France.



Uncontrolled high blood pressure leads clinicians to wonder about adherence degree among hypertensive patients. In this context, our study aims to describe and analyze patients' experience of antihypertensive drugs in order to shed light on the multiple social and symbolic logics, forming part of the cultural factors shaping personal medication practices.


The medical inductive and comprehensive anthropological approach implemented is based on an ethnographic survey (observations of consultations and interviews). Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 68 hypertensive patients (39 women and 29 men, between the ages of 40 and 95, of whom 52 were over 60) who had been receiving treatment for over a year.


Antihypertensive drugs are reinterpreted when filtered through the cultural model of physiopathology (the body as an engine). This symbolic dimension facilitates acceptance of therapy but leads to a hierarchization of other prescribed drugs and of certain therapeutic classes (diuretics). Prescription compliance does not solely depend on the patient's perception of cardiovascular risk, but also on how the patient fully accepts the treatment and integrates it into his or her daily life; this requires identification with the product, building commitment and self-regulation of the treatment (experience, managing treatment and control of side effects, intake and treatment continuity). Following the prescription requires a relationship based on trust between the doctor and patient, which we have identified in three forms: reasoned trust, emotional trust and conceded trust.


Consideration and understanding of these pragmatic and symbolic issues by the treating physician should aid practitioners in carrying out their role as medical educators in the management of hypertension. This paper was originally published in French, in the journal Pratiques et organisation des soins 39(1): 3-12.


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