In the present study we hypothesized that arterial catecholamine concentrations during rest and 2 laboratory stress tests were independent predictors of blood pressure at an 18-year follow-up. At entry, blood pressure, heart rate, and arterial plasma epinephrine and norepinephrine concentrations were measured in 99 healthy men (age: 19.3+/-0.4 years, mean+/-SD) at rest, during a mental arithmetic test, and during a cold pressor test. After 18.0+/-0.9 years of follow-up, resting blood pressure was measured. The norepinephrine and epinephrine concentrations during the mental arithmetic explained 12.7% of the variation of future systolic blood pressure after adjusting for initial resting blood pressure, family history, body mass index, and systolic blood pressure during the stress test in a multiple regression analysis (adjusted R(2)=0.651; P<0.001). To conclude, the present study shows that sympathetic nervous activity during mental arithmetic predicts future blood pressure, indicating a possible causal factor in the development of essential hypertension independent of the initial blood pressure.