The purpose of this study was to investigate differences in left ventricular mass index (LVMI) and the prevalence of left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH) in children and adolescents classified as normotensives, prehypertensives and hypertensives by ambulatory blood pressure (BP) levels. A total of 124 consecutive children and adolescents aged 5 to 18 years were analysed. Patients underwent 24 h ambulatory blood pressure monitoring (ABPM) and echocardiography. Hypertensive and prehypertensive subjects had significantly higher LVMI than normotensives (36.8 +/- 8.4 g/m(2.7) and 34.1 +/- 3.4 g/m(2.7) vs. 29.5 +/- 8.3 g/m(2.7), P < 0.01 and P < 0.05, respectively). In multivariate analysis predictors for LVMI were body mass index (BMI) z score and hypertension (R-squared = 0.31). LVMI values in hypertensive subjects were significantly higher than those of normotensives even after adjustment for age, sex and BMI z score. The prevalence of LVH was significantly higher in the prehypertensive compared to normotensive subjects, and was equal to that of the hypertensive subjects. Hypertension and prehypertension in children and adolescents were associated with pathologically elevated LVMI values. If confirmed in a larger group prehypertensive children may be at risk for target organ damage similar to the condition of established hypertension.