Purpose: To review the evidence on four questions about screening asymptomatic adults for arterial hypertension: Is hypertension a significant health problem? Is it detectable at an early, presymptomatic stage? Is treatment available and effective? Do the benefits of screening outweigh the costs and risks?
Data Identification and Selection: We did a computerized search of the MEDLARS data base to identify communitybased trials of drug therapy for mild hypertension; other relevant citations are included when appropriate.
Data Synthesis: We approached the preliminary questions in our analysis by narrative review and argument. The estimates of therapeutic efficacy are based on previously published meta-analyses. The cost-effectiveness of screening was addressed by formal mathematical modeling of the effect of screening on various U.S. populations.
Results of Analysis: Hypertension is clearly a significant health problem. It can be detected early, and effective treatment is available. Screening asymptomatic adults for hypertension has benefits that compare favorably to the risks and costs involved. According to our estimates, screening is most cost-effective for older adults compared with younger adults and for men compared with women and is highly sensitive to the cost of therapy for mild hypertension.
Conclusions: We recommend hypertension screening for all adults. We also discuss the frequency and setting of screening activities. When a low-cost therapy is used, the cost-effectiveness of screening for hypertension compares favorably with other cardiovascular interventions.