The prevalence of hypertension in a representative sample (n = 10202) of the Danish general population aged 16-59 years was assessed to 4.4% based on three blood pressure readings. In Type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetic patients of similar age (n = 1703) the prevalence was determined in a similar way to 14.7% (p less than 0.00001). The excess prevalence in Type 1 diabetic patients was due to hypertension in patients with incipient and clinical nephropathy as the prevalence of hypertension among diabetic patients with normal urinary albumin excretion (essential hypertension) was 3.9%, similar to that observed in the general population. The patients with Type 1 diabetes and essential hypertension had higher systolic (146 +/- 19 vs 133 +/- 18 mm Hg, p less than 0.00001) and diastolic blood pressure (87 +/- 12 vs 79 +/- 7 mm Hg, p less than 0.00001), but less changes in the eye background than patients with incipient nephropathy (urinary albumin excretion 30-300 mg/24 h) (p less than 0.03), indicating that the two groups were also different with respect to other microangiopathic lesions. Patients with essential hypertension were defined as having a normal urinary albumin excretion before and during antihypertensive treatment (if any). They were followed-up for a 58 (6-234) month period. We confirmed that hypertension is more common among Type 1 diabetic patients than in the general population and found the prevalence of essential hypertension similar in Type 1 diabetic patients to the non-diabetic population. This supports our hypothesis that hypertension is very unlikely to be the cause of diabetic nephropathy.