this ethno-epidemiological inquiry aims to comprehend hypertension-related experiences in the elderly population of bambuí, in the state of minas gerais, brazil. it combines ethnographic descriptions with statistical data. the subjective significance of factors associated with adequate arterial pressure control is explored. a baseline cohort of 26 people with hypertension, randomly selected from a total number of 1,494 residents over the age of 60, was interviewed utilizing signs, meanings and actions methodology. multivariate analysis shows an association (p < 0.001) between female gender and monthly household income and treatment of hypertension and adequate blood pressure control. the number of doctor visits is associated with treatment but not with adequate blood pressure control. conflicting cultural construction of "blood pressure problems" contributes to "non-adherence" to treatment. there is a fine line between blood pressure "control" and what is perceived as health professionals "controlling" patients' lives. doctor-prescribed regimes are perceived as "prohibiting life's pleasures" and "controlling" personal liberty and free choice. giving elderly people a voice regarding their social context can promote autonomy, well-being and happiness in later life.