In an attempt to dissociate the cardiovascular adaptations to high blood pressure from those of ageing, 30 patients with established essential hypertension aged over 65 years were matched for mean arterial pressure, race, sex, height, and weight with 30 patients younger than 42 years. Cardiac output, heart rate, stroke volume, intravascular volume, renal blood flow, and plasma renin activity were significantly lower in the elderly, whereas total peripheral (and renal vascular) resistance, left ventricular posterior wall and septal thicknesses, and left ventricular mass were higher. Intravascular volume correlated inversely with total peripheral resistance in both groups and in all patients. Pathophysiological findings of essential hypertension in the elderly are characterised by a hypertrophied heart of the concentric type with a low cardiac output resulting from a smaller stroke volume and a slower heart rate. Renal blood flow is disproportionally reduced and total peripheral and renal vascular resistance elevated.