Cardiac and arterial hypertrophy and atherosclerosis in hypertension
Clinical evaluation of the hypertensive patient has traditionally relied on physician measurement of blood pressure and assessment of target-organ involvement by simple laboratory tests. However, this approach is limited in its ability to identify individual patients at high or low risk of complications. In recent years, noninvasive methods have been developed to identify pathological transformations of the heart and arteries that collectively comprise "preclinical hypertensive disease." Measurements by echocardiogram or other methods of left ventricular mass and relative wall thickness identify a spectrum of cardiac adaptations to hypertension, including concentric and eccentric hypertrophy, the recently described pattern of "concentric left ventricular remodeling" (normal mass but increased relative wall thickness), and normal ventricular geometry. In clinical studies, each anatomic pattern is associated with a distinct profile of resting hemodynamics, ambulatory blood pressure, myocardial contractility, and risk of adverse outcomes. Ultrasonic imaging of the carotid or other arteries makes it possible to detect increased arterial wall thickness and discrete atheromas noninvasively. Carotid wall thickness and lumen diameter parallel similar ventricular dimensions in normotensive and hypertensive humans, indicating the presence of integrated patterns of cardiac and vascular adaptation to hypertension. Furthermore, peripheral atherosclerosis is associated with higher ventricular mass and a more adverse 24-hour blood pressure profile. In summary, noninvasive visualization of the heart and blood vessels reveals a spectrum of patterns of anatomic and functional adaptations that are related to the pathophysiology and prognosis of hypertension.