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To estimate hypertension's long-term cost and impact on life expectancy.A 19-year individual follow-up study. Subjects were categorized according to their baseline (1972) diastolic blood pressure (DBP) level into three groups: normotensive (DBP < 95 mmHg), mildly hypertensive (DBP 95–104 mmHg), and severely hypertensive (DBP > 104 mmHg). By using their social security identification numbers, we linked the subjects to a set of national registers covering hospital admissions, use of major drugs, absence due to sickness, disability pensions, and deaths.A random population sample of 10 284 men and women aged 25–59 years from the provinces of Kuopio and North Karelia in eastern Finland.The numbers of years of life and years of work lost, the cost of drugs and hospitalization, and the value of productivity lost due to disability and premature mortality.The difference in life expectancy between normotensive and severely hypertensive men was 2.7 years, of which 2.0 years was due to cardiovascular disease (CVD). Among women the corresponding differences were 2.0 and 1.5 years. Severely hypertensive men lost 2.6 years of work more than did normotensive men, of which 1.7 years was due to CVD. Among women the differences were 2.2 and 1.3 years. The mean undiscounted total costs (USA dollars at 1992 prices) were $132 500 among normotensive, $146 500 among mildly hypertensive, and $219 300 among severely hypertensive men, of which CVD accounted for 28, 39, and 43%, respectively. More than 90% of the total costs were indirect productivity losses. Among women the total costs were lower for all DBP categories, as were the shares of CVD-related costs. The proportional increase in costs on going from the lowest to the highest DBP category was, however, somewhat larger among women.On the population level, severe hypertension leads to considerable losses in terms of years of life lost, years of work lost, and costs. However, the overall impact of mild hypertension is much more limited.