1. Sympathetic nervous system activity, measured by urinary noradrenaline excretion, was determined in a group of untreated hypertensive subjects (n = 35), a reference group (n = 80) and a normotensive group (n = 51), all derived from a random population sample of 50-year-old men. It was compared with casual and resting blood pressure, urinary sodium excretion, urinary creatinine concentration and glomerular filtration rate. Hypertension was defined as systolic pressure > 175 or diastolic > 115 mmHg on two separate occasions. Normotension was defined as systolic pressure < 160 and diastolic pressure < 95 mmHg.
2. There was no difference in the average excretion of noradrenaline during the day or night between the reference, normotensive and hypertensive groups. None of the hypertensive patients had values for urinary noradrenaline excretion during the day above the range found in normotensive subjects, indicating that hypertension with increased sympathetic nervous system activity is uncommon when hypertension is defined as above.
3. No correlation between urinary noradrenaline excretion during the day and blood pressure was found in the reference group or in the normotensive group. In the hypertensive group, there was a negative correlation between urinary noradrenaline excretion and blood pressure after rest. This finding might indicate that factors other than sympathetic nervous system activity determine the level of blood pressure in hypertensive subjects.
4. In the hypertensive group, urinary noradrenaline excretion during the day was positively correlated with both urinary sodium excretion during the day and glomerular filtration rate. Urinary noradrenaline excretion per 24 h was positively correlated with urinary sodium excretion during the same time. High resting blood pressure, low urinary sodium excretion, low glomerular filtration rate and a reversed diurnal rhythm of urinary excretion characterized hypertensive patients with low urinary noradrenaline excretion, indicating more severe hypertension in these hypertensive patients with reduced sympathetic nervous system activity.