Cardiovascular complications are a major source of morbidity and mortality in hypertensive patients. To assess the prevalence of anatomic and functional abnormalities of the heart in such patients, we studied 234 asymptomatic subjects with mild-to-moderate systemic hypertension by echocardiography. After adjusting the echocardiographic values for age and body surface area, we found abnormally increased ventricular septal and/or posterobasal free-wall thickness in 61% of the hypertensive subjects. We found increased left atrial, aortic root, and left ventricular internal dimension (at end-diastole) in 5-7%, and decreased mitral valve closing velocity (E-F slope) and left ventricular ejection fraction were noted in six and 15% of the subjects, respectively. Four percent of the patients had disproportionate septal thickening (i.e., ventricular septal-to-left ventricular free-wall thickness ratio greater than or equal to 1.3). In contrast to the high prevalence of cardiac abnormalities detected by echocardiography, less than 10% of the hypertensive subjects had abnormal 12-lead ECGs or abnormal chest x-rays. These findings demonstrate a high prevalence of cardiac abnormalities in a population of asymptomatic hypertensive subjects. These abnormalities can be detected by echocardiography before they are otherwise apparent.