Epidemiological studies in the past decade have stressed the importance of both pulse pressure and mean arterial pressure (MAP) as important risk factors in hypertension-related cardiovascular disease. Pulse pressure and MAP are determined by different segments of the cardiovascular system. Pulse pressure is the pulsatile component of the blood pressure curve. It is determined by left ventricular ejection, the cushioning capacity (compliance) of the large arteries, and the timing and intensity of wave reflections from the microcirculation. MAP is the steady component; it is determined by cardiac output and peripheral (micro)vascular resistance.
To a large degree, the structural design of the heart and vascular tree determine the pulse pressure and MAP, in addition to the propagation of the pressure wave through the vasculature. Pressure and flow, in contrast, influence the composition and geometry of the heart and vasculature. Hypertensive disease is associated with important structural alterations of the heart, such as hypertrophy and fibrosis, and of the vasculature, such as large artery stiffening, small artery remodelling and microvascular rarefaction. Recent basic research has revealed some of the molecular pathways involved in the remodelling of the cardiovascular system under the influence of physical forces.
For correct understanding of the pathophysiology of hypertensive disease, its risks for target-organ damage and its effective treatment, both the pulsatile and steady components of the blood pressure curve must be considered.