Exercise hypertension has been suggested to predict future resting hypertension, but its significance in terms of cardiovascular risk has not been defined. To assess the prognostic significance of exercise hypertension, 150 healthy, asymptomatic subjects with normal resting blood pressures and exercise systolic blood pressures > or =214 mm Hg (i.e., >90th percentile) on Bruce treadmill tests were identified retrospectively and age- and gender-matched with subjects with exercise systolic blood pressures of 170 to 192 mm Hg (40th to 70th percentiles). Subjects were contacted by survey a mean of 7.7+/-2.9 years after the index treadmill test. The survey response rate was 93%. There were 12 deaths, including 8 in the exercise hypertension group. A major cardiovascular event, defined as cardiovascular death, myocardial infarction, stroke, coronary angioplasty, or coronary bypass graft surgery occurred in 5 controls and 10 subjects with exercise hypertension. At follow-up, 13 controls and 37 subjects with exercise hypertension were now diagnosed as having resting hypertension. In multivariate analysis, exercise hypertension was not a significant predictor for death or any individual cardiovascular event, but was for total cardiovascular events and new resting hypertension. The multivariate risk ratio for exercise hypertension was 3.62 (p = 0.03) in predicting a major cardiovascular event. Other significant predictors included body mass index and age. For predicting new resting hypertension, the multivariate odds ratio for exercise hypertension was 2.41 (p = 0.02). These data suggest that exercise hypertension carries a small but significant risk for major cardiovascular events in healthy, asymptomatic persons with normal resting blood pressures.