Keep Calm and Stop Saying “Hypertension”

Alt: The words “WHHL Presents: Hyper Tension” appear above several doodles doing various physical activities — and making the case for why they’re the most hyper doodle of all. They say things like, “Jumping jacks are the only true hyper activity you hosers!”

When you hear the word “tension,” what comes to mind? The force of your blood pumping against your artery walls, you say? Well, you might be the only one!

For all our fellow jargon naysayers out there, here’s a new installment of our “use simpler words” series. Today’s target: “hypertension.”

Hypertension is medical jargon for high blood pressure. And while fancy-pants words are always on our chopping block, this one is especially tricky because it contains 2 red herrings for people with limited health literacy: “hyper” and “tension.”

For example, a reasonable person might associate “hyper” with toddlers who just hit the sugar sauce, and “tension” with adults who are feeling a bit, ahem, saucy. And we’re guessing those associations won’t have anyone running for the blood pressure cuff.

Besides the potential for “hypertension” to mislead people, there’s another really good reason not to use it. That’s right, dear readers, it’s one of those jargon terms that has a super straightforward and totally accurate substitute.

So skip phrases like:

  • Hypertension increases your risk for heart attack and stroke.
  • Get tested for hypertension regularly.

And go for these easy options instead:

  • High blood pressure increases your risk for heart attack and stroke.
  • Get your blood pressure checked regularly.

The bottom line: Don’t send your readers’ blood pressure through the roof — skip “hypertension.”

Tweet about it: Writing about “hypertension”? Let’s not! @CommunicateHlth makes the case for “high blood pressure” in #HealthLit materials:


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