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It has been suggested that the increased incidence of sudden death in hypertensive patients, particularly those with left ventricular hypertrophy, may be causally related to the increased number and complexity of ventricular arrhythmias that have been demonstrated in these patients. The objective of the present study was to assess some of the factors which might be responsible for these arrhythmias.One hundred and three untreated subjects were divided into four groups on the basis of blood pressure and echocardiographic measurements: hypertensive patients with left ventricular hypertrophy (n = 38), hypertensive patients without left ventricular hypertrophy (n = 16), patients with borderline or white-coat hypertension (n = 26) and normotensive subjects (n = 23). Each subject underwent two-dimensional and Doppler echocardiography, 12-lead electrocardiogram examination, 12-lead electrocardiogram exercise stress testing, 24-h ambulatory blood pressure monitoring and 24-h Holter monitoring. A further 17 hypertensive patients with left ventricular hypertrophy who were on long-term antihypertensive therapy were also investigated in the same manner and compared with untreated hypertensive patients with left ventricular hypertrophy who were matched for age, sex and race.Untreated hypertensive patients, even with left ventricular hypertrophy, had a low prevalence of frequent or complex arrhythmias (seven out of 80 patients with town score 2+). In contrast, hypertensive patients with left ventricular hypertrophy on long-term antihypertensive therapy had a significantly greater prevalence of complex arrhythmias than untreated patients with left ventricular hypertrophy (eight out of 17 treated patients compared with two out of 17 untreated patients with Lown score 2+).Hypertensive patients with left ventricular hypertrophy who had received long-term antihypertensive therapy were found to have a high prevalence of complex ventricular arrhythmias, which was in contrast to untreated hypertensive patients, even those with left ventricular hypertrophy. This may reflect the consequences on the left ventricle of long-term antihypertensive treatment. If complex ventricular arrhythmias are implicated in the excess of sudden deaths in hypertensive patients, this might be an important factor.