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Introduction: Understanding explanatory models is important for hypertension, a leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke. This article aims to determine what adult patients with hypertension in the Philippines attribute their condition to, how these views might be explained and what the implications are for hypertension management. Methods: This is a qualitative study drawing on 71 semistructured interviews (40 initial and 31 follow-up) and four focus group discussions with patients diagnosed with hypertension. The setting was urban and rural low-income communities in the Philippines. Results: Four prominent perceived causes were identified—genetics, heat, stress and diet—for what patients refer to as ‘high blood’. We propose a ‘folk physiology’ that rests on local understandings of blood and blood flow, draws from broader cultural notions of illness causation and accounts for a dynamic, non-chronic view of hypertension that in turn informs the health behaviours of those affected. Conclusions: By understanding that hypertension is frequently seen not as a chronic constant condition but rather as an episodic one triggered by external influences, although in those genetically predisposed to it, it may be possible to address patient’s beliefs and thus adherence to treatment.