Dietary salt is the major cause of the rise in the blood pressure with age and the development of high blood pressure in populations. However, the mechanisms whereby salt intake raises the blood pressure are not clear. Existing concepts focus on the tendency for an increase in extracellular fluid volume (ECV), but an increased salt intake also induces a small rise in plasma sodium, which increases a transfer of fluid from the intracellular to the extracellular space, and stimulates the thirst center. Accordingly, the rise in plasma sodium is responsible for the tendency for an increase in ECV. Although the change in ECV may have a pressor effect, the associated rise in plasma sodium itself may also cause the blood pressure to rise. There is some evidence in patients with essential hypertension and the spontaneously hypertensive rat (SHR) that plasma sodium may be raised by 1 to 3 mmol/L. An experimental rise in sodium concentration greater than 5 mmol/L induces pressor effects on the brain and on the renin-angiotensin system. Such a rise can also induce changes in cultured vascular tissue similar to those that occur in the vessels of humans and animals on a high sodium diet, independent of the blood pressure. We suggest that a small increase in plasma sodium may be part of the mechanisms whereby dietary salt increases the blood pressure.