Data from humans and experimental animals indicate that hypertensive diseases triggered by extracellular fluid volume expansion are characterized, in their chronic phases, by relatively normal blood volume (BV) and heightened pressure-volume relationship may be viewed as corresponding to a condition of "virtual hypervolemia," where BV is inappropriately "high" relative to blood pressure. The limited data available on the phasic relationship between these variables indicate that the BV expansion appears to be a prerequisite to alterations in vascular ion metabolism, that both of these changes precede the rise in blood pressure, and that structures within the central nervous system may be a critical link between the body fluid volumes and vascular functional changes. In contrast, hypertensive diseases triggered by secretion of pressor agents or their precursors appear to be characterized in their chronic phases by low BV. These relationships and the associated alterations in plasma aldosterone and renin levels are summarized for a variety of clinical syndromes, including essential hypertension and pregnancy-induced hypertension. Direct or indirect evidence of a primary or secondary defect in renal function is apparent as an underlying event in many of these diseases.