1. The forearm venous pressure-volume relationship was studied in 14 young men with borderline hypertension and in 16 control subjects of the same age and sex. Strain-gauge plethysmography was used to evaluate volume changes after slow increases and decreases in distention, in order to estimate the amplitude of the hysteresis curve.

2. Compared with normotensive control subjects, subjects with borderline hypertension had significantly higher values of blood pressure, heart rate and forearm blood flow.

3. Baseline forearm venous tone was slightly, but not significantly, increased in borderline hypertensive subjects (21.35 ± 6.53 versus 18.75 ± 5.95 mmHg ml−1 100 ml−1) and was significantly enhanced after a cold pressor test. The increase was no higher in the borderline hypertensive subjects than in the normotensive control subjects.

4. The area of the hysteresis curve was significantly decreased (7.58 ± 3.58 versus 10.34 ± 5.67 arbitrary units; P = 0.0092) as was the extent of isotonic relaxation (creep) (0.28 ± 0.11 versus 0.39 ± 0.22 ml/100 ml; P = 0.0098) in borderline hypertensive subjects compared with control subjects. Both parameters were unaffected by the cold pressor test.

5. The study suggests that the viscous component of the venous wall is altered in young patients with borderline hypertension, indicating intrinsic changes in vascular segments which are not exposed to increased intraluminal pressure.

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