The prevalence and determinants of urinary albumin excretion rate (AER) were assessed in lean and overweight normotensive subjects (NT) and patients with essential hypertension (EH). In NT and EH, the presence of overweight was associated with a significant exacerbation of AER. In the normotensive population, AER was higher in subjects with a positive family history of hypertension. An important role for smoking was observed in the hypertensive population; in fact, the prevalence of microalbuminuria (MA) was almost twofold in lean hypertensive smokers when compared to nonsmokers. Among other determinants of AER, a major influence of systolic arterial pressure, urinary excretion of urea (an estimate of protein intake), and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (inversely correlated with AER) was observed mainly in lean EH patients. The significance of microalbuminuria is unclear. Is it a marker of cardiovascular risk and/or a predictor of the future development of renal disease in EH?