Hypertension: physiology and pathophysiology

Compr Physiol. 2012 Oct;2(4):2393-442. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c110058.


Despite major advances in understanding the pathophysiology of hypertension and availability of effective and safe antihypertensive drugs, suboptimal blood pressure (BP) control is still the most important risk factor for cardiovascular mortality and is globally responsible for more than 7 million deaths annually. Short-term and long-term BP regulation involve the integrated actions of multiple cardiovascular, renal, neural, endocrine, and local tissue control systems. Clinical and experimental observations strongly support a central role for the kidneys in the long-term regulation of BP, and abnormal renal-pressure natriuresis is present in all forms of chronic hypertension. Impaired renal-pressure natriuresis and chronic hypertension can be caused by intrarenal or extrarenal factors that reduce glomerular filtration rate or increase renal tubular reabsorption of salt and water; these factors include excessive activation of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone and sympathetic nervous systems, increased formation of reactive oxygen species, endothelin, and inflammatory cytokines, or decreased synthesis of nitric oxide and various natriuretic factors. In human primary (essential) hypertension, the precise causes of impaired renal function are not completely understood, although excessive weight gain and dietary factors appear to play a major role since hypertension is rare in nonobese hunter-gathers living in nonindustrialized societies. Recent advances in genetics offer opportunities to discover gene-environment interactions that may also contribute to hypertension, although success thus far has been limited mainly to identification of rare monogenic forms of hypertension.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Extracellular Fluid / metabolism
  • Feedback, Physiological / physiology
  • Female
  • Gene-Environment Interaction
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Glomerular Filtration Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / etiology
  • Hypertension / physiopathology*
  • Kidney / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Natriuresis / physiology
  • Obesity / complications
  • Renin-Angiotensin System / physiology
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Weight Gain / physiology