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Curr Hypertens Rep. 2009 Jun;11(3):182-9.

The macrocirculation and microcirculation of hypertension.

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Division de Physiopathologie Clinique, MP-14/204, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois, CH-1011 Lausanne, Switzerland.


Changes in vascular structure that accompany hypertension may contribute to hypertensive end-organ damage. Both the macrovascular and microvascular levels should be considered, as interactions between them are believed to be critically important. Regarding the macrocirculation, the article first reviews basic concepts of vascular biomechanics, such as arterial compliance, arterial distensibility, and stress-strain relationships of arterial wall material, and then reviews how hypertension affects the properties of conduit arteries, particularly examining evidence that it accelerates the progressive stiffening that normally occurs with advancing age. High arterial stiffness may increase central systolic and pulse pressure by two different mechanisms: 1) Abnormally high pulse wave velocity may cause pressure waves reflected in the periphery to reach the central aorta in systole, thus augmenting systolic pressure; 2) In the elderly, the interaction of the forward pressure wave with high arterial stiffness is mostly responsible for abnormally high pulse pressure. At the microvascular level, hypertensive disease is characterized by inward eutrophic or hypertrophic arteriolar remodeling and capillary rarefaction. These abnormalities may depend in part on the abnormal transmission of highly pulsatile blood pressure into microvascular networks, especially in highly perfused organs with low vascular resistance, such as the kidney, heart, and brain, where it contributes to hypertensive end-organ damage.

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