In many reports, the prevalence of target organ damage in renovascular hypertension (RVH) appears to be higher than in essential hypertension (EH). Since in most studies the renal artery stenosis is part of a diffuse atherosclerotic disease, it is not known whether these complications are due to RVH itself or to the vascular disease. We have undertaken a case control study of 92 patients divided into two groups (46 in each), one with RVH and the other with EH and abdominal aortic aneurysm, with a comparable degree of diffuse atherosclerotic vascular disease. The vascular state of the extracranial carotid arteries and abdominal and inferior limb districts was investigated with angiography and sonography. The prevalence of left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH) and ischemic heart disease (IHD) were assessed by electrocardiography. Serum creatinine and urinary protein excretion were employed in the renal evaluation. While the analysis of the results confirmed an even diffusion of atherosclerotic vascular disease between the two groups, a significant difference was found in the prevalence of heart and renal damage. LVH was present in 32.6% of RVH patients versus 10.8% in EH (P = .02). Serum creatinine > 1.4 mg/dL was found in 50% of RVH and in 23.9% of EH, (P = .01). The prevalence of proteinuria in RVH was also higher although not reaching the statistical significance. The results suggest that, in patients with comparable degrees of atherosclerotic vascular disease, RVH is responsible for the higher prevalence of target organ damage in this condition compared to those with EH.