1. Intra-arterial blood pressure and heart rate were recorded for 24 h in ambulant hospitalized patients of variable age who had normal blood pressure or essential hypertension. Mean 24 h values, standard deviations and variation coefficient were obtained as the averages of values separately analysed for 48 consecutive half-hour periods.
2. In older subjects standard deviation and variation coefficient for mean arterial pressure were greater than in younger subjects with similar pressure values, whereas standard deviation and variation coefficient for heart rate were smaller.
3. In hypertensive subjects standard deviation for mean arterial pressure was greater than in normotensive subjects of similar ages, but this was not the case for variation coefficient, which was slightly smaller in the former than in the latter group. Normotensive and hypertensive subjects showed no difference in standard deviation and variation coefficient for heart rate.
4. In both normotensive and hypertensive subjects standard deviation and even more so variation coefficient were slightly or not related to arterial baroreflex sensitivity as measured by various methods (phenylephrine, neck suction etc.).
5. It is concluded that blood pressure variability increases and heart rate variability decreases with age, but that changes in variability are not so obvious in hypertension. Also, differences in variability among subjects are only marginally explained by differences in baroreflex function.