Pathophysiology of essential hypertension: role of the pump, the vessel, and the kidney

Author(s): Cain AE, Khalil RA


Essential hypertension is characterized by significant and persistent elevations in arterial pressure. Hypertension is a multifactorial disorder that may involve abnormalities in the functions of the heart pump, the blood vessels, and the kidneys. Short-term and long-term regulation of arterial pressure is influenced by changes in cardiac function, the peripheral vascular resistance, and the renal control mechanisms of plasma electrolytes and volume. Increases in the heart rate and stroke volume lead to increases in the cardiac output and could contribute to increases in arterial pressure particularly in relatively young individuals. Vascular endothelial cell dysfunction could lead to reduction in endothelium-derived relaxing factors such as nitric oxide, prostacyclin, and endothelium-derived hyperpolarizing factor, or increased production of contracting factors such as endothelin-1 and thromboxane A2. Also, increased activity of signaling pathways of vascular smooth muscle contraction such as [Ca(2+)]i, protein kinase C, mitogen-activated protein kinase, and Rho kinase could enhance vasoconstriction. The decreased vascular relaxation and excessive vasoconstriction lead to significant increases in the peripheral vascular resistance and arterial pressure over time, particularly with aging. Alterations in body fluid regulation by the kidneys could lead to salt and water retention, increased plasma volume, and cardiac output. Also, activation of the renin-angiotensin system increases the levels of angiotensin II in the plasma, leading to generalized vasoconstriction, or locally in the kidneys, leading to salt and water retention. Individual changes in cardiac, vascular, or renal function seldom occur separately, and, if so, they may lead to mild or moderate increases in arterial pressure. Combined alterations in cardiac, vascular, and renal functions are more common and are often associated with pathologic increases in arterial pressure and established hypertension.

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