AbstractRegardless of the mechanisms that initiate the increase in blood pressure, functional and structural changes in the systemic vasculature are the final result of long-standing hypertension. These changes can occur in the macro- but also in the microvasculature. The supply of the tissues with oxygen, nutrients, and metabolites occurs almost exclusively in the microcirculation (which comprises resistance arterioles, capillaries and venules), and an adequate perfusion via the microcirculatory network is essential for the integrity of tissue and organ function. This review focuses on results from clinical studies in hypertensive patients, which have been performed in close cooperation with different clinical groups over the last three decades. Intravital microscopy was used to study skin microcirculation, microcatheters for the analysis of skeletal muscle microcirculation, the slit lamp for conjunctival microcirculation and the laser scanning ophthalmoscope for the measurement of the retinal capillary network. The first changes of the normal microcirculation can be found in about 93% of patients with essential hypertension, long before organ dysfunctions become clinically manifest. The earliest disorders were found in skin capillaries and thereafter in the retina and the skeletal muscle. In general, the disorders in the different areas were clearly correlated. While capillary rarefaction occurred mainly in the retina and the conjunctiva bulbi, in skin capillaries morphological changes were rare. A significant decrease of capillary erythrocyte velocities under resting conditions together with a marked damping of the postischemic hyperemia was found, both correlating with the duration of hypertension or WHO stage or the fundus hypertonicus stage. Also the mean oxygen tension in the skeletal muscle was correlated with the state of the disease. These data show that the microcirculatory disorders in hypertension are systemic and are hallmarks of the long-term complications of hypertension. There is now a large body of evidence that microvascular changes occur very early and may be important in their pathogenesis and progression.