A large body of evidence indicates that patients with essential hypertension are characterized by endothelial dysfunction mediated by an impaired NO availability secondary to oxidative stress production. A dysfunctioning endothelium is an early marker of the development of atherosclerotic changes and can also contribute to cardiovascular events. Vascular reactivity tests represent the most widely used methods in the clinical assessment of endothelial function. In the last two decades, many studies have evaluated the endothelium in hypertensive patients, using different techniques. Several methodologies were developed to study microcirculation (resistance arteries and arterioles) and macrocirculation (conduit arteries), both in coronary and peripheral vascular districts. This review will describe the most relevant available techniques in the research on endothelial dysfunction in essential hypertension, their advantages and limitations, focusing on available data on endothelial dysfunction and on the effect of treatment. Endothelial dysfunction in the coronary and peripheral circulation of hypertensive patients are associated with hypertensive target organ damage and it is predictive of cardiovascular events. Several non-pharmacological approaches, including physical exercise and dietary interventions, can ameliorate endothelial function in hypertensive patients. Despite blood pressure reduction per se is not effective, some antihypertensive drugs can improve endothelial dysfunction, particularly calcium channel antagonist in the microcirculation, ACE-inhibitors and AT1-receptor antagonists mostly in conduit arteries. Some beneficial effects were also exerted by nebivolol and statins. Future studies are needed to confirm whether the improvement in endothelial dysfunction is associated to better cardiovascular prognosis in hypertension.
Keywords: Endothelium, hypertension, nitric oxide, large arteries, microcirculation, therapy, endothelial dysfunction, ACE-inhibitors, AT1-receptor antagonists, bradykinin
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