Venous distensibility in essential hypertension has been reported to be unchanged or decreased; its pathophysiologic role is uncertain. In 27 male hypertensive patients and 21 normotensive control subjects, forearm venous distensibility and capillary filtration rate at 30 cm of H20 distending pressure were measured by strain gauge plethysmography. Plasma renin activity (PRA), plasma volume (PV) by the Evans blue dye dilution technique, mean arterial pressure (MAP) by cuff, and cardiac output (CO) by the CO2 rebreathing method were also measured. Compared to values in normotensive control subjects, forearm venous distensibility in hypertensive subjects was decreased (P < 0.05); the forearm venous pressure-volume curves (deflation phase) were shifted in the direction of the pressure axis (P < 0.02); and the capillary filtration rate was increased (P < 0.05). Venous distensibility changes in hypertensive subjects were unrelated to PRA, MAP, PV, CO, stroke volume, and total peripheral resistance. These findings confirm previous reports of decreased venous distensibility in hypertension and provide direct evidence for increased capillary filtration rate. In view of the lack of significant correlation between venous distensibility and the measured hemodynamic parameters, a pathophysiologic role for venous distensibility in hypertension could not be established.