Hypertensive and diabetic mellitus diseases are known to increase stiffness of the arterial wall. However these alterations probably involve different mechanisms. To this end, we compared the effect of hypertension and diabetes on large artery caliber and elasticity at real pressure conditions and at the same level of pressure. Nine poorly controlled non insulino-dependent diabetic men without hypertension and 9 non-diabetic essential hypertensive men underwent measures of lumen diameter (pulsed Doppler) and segmental compliance (Bramwell and Hill formula; pulse wave velocity) at the brachial artery. Isobaric diameter and compliance were deduced from a non linear model, comparing diameter and pressure on one part, and compliance and pressure on the other. Pulse wave velocity was similarly increased in both diseases (11.5 +/- 1 vs 12.8 +/- 1 m/s; NS; respectively in diabetes and hypertension). Both measured and isobaric diameters were smaller in diabetic patients (4.05 +/- 0.2 vs 5.03 +/- 0.2 mm, p less than 0.1% for the measured diameters respectively in diabetes and hypertension and 4.06 +/- 0.2 vs 5.01 +/- 0.2 mm, p less than 1% for isobaric diameters). The measured and isobaric compliances were not significantly different (2.38 +/- 0.4 vs 2.08 +/- 0.2 cm/mmHg10(-4), NS, for the measured compliance respectively in diabetes and hypertension; 2.28 +/- 0.4 vs 2.4 +/- 0.2, NS for the isobaric compliance). After correction of the effect of mechanical arterial stretch induced by the different blood pressure level of the two groups, significant reduction of diameter in diabetic subjects persisted and isobaric and measured compliances remained unchanged between groups.