1. Forty-year-old individuals with mild essential hypertension, identified during a survey of a population born in 1936, were investigated. Forty-year-old normotensive subjects, drawn from the same population, served as a control group.

2. Plasma noradrenaline concentration and plasma renin concentration at rest supine and after acute stimulation, as induced by frusemide intravenously and ambulation, did not differ from reference values in the 40-year-old normotensive controls. In the hypertensive group a close correlation (r = 0·77, P < 0·001) was found between plasma noradrenaline and plasma renin concentration after acute stimulation.

3. Sympathetic nerve activity, as defined by measurements of plasma noradrenaline, is normal in mild essential hypertension. Discrepancies described in the literature are probably related to a lack of comparability between hypertensive and normotensive study populations.

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