Albumin excretion in urine is positively correlated with the presence of ischemic heart disease and atherosclerotic risk factors. We studied prospectively whether a slight increase of urinary albumin excretion, ie, microalbuminuria, adds to the increased risk of ischemic heart disease among hypertensive subjects. In 1983 and 1984, blood pressure, urinary albumin/creatinine concentration ratio, plasma total and HDL cholesterol levels, body mass index, and smoking status were obtained in a population- based sample of 2085 subjects, aged 30 to 60 years, who were free from ischemic heart disease, diabetes mellitus, and renal or urinary tract disease. Untreated arterial hypertension or borderline hypertension was present in 204 subjects, who were followed until 1993 by the National Hospital and Death Certificate Registers with respect to development of ischemic heart disease. During 1978 person-years, 18 (9%) of the hypertensive subjects developed ischemic heart disease. Microalbuminuria, defined as a urinary albumin/creatinine ratio above the upper decile (1.07 mg/mmol), was the strongest predictor of ischemic heart disease, with an unadjusted relative risk of 4.2 (95% CI 1.5 to 11.9, P=0.006) and a relative risk of 3.5 (95% CI 1.0 to 12.1, P=0.05) when adjusted for all other atherosclerotic risk factors, including age and gender. In conclusion, microalbuminuria confers a 4-fold increased risk of ischemic heart disease among hypertensive or borderline hypertensive subjects. Urinary albumin excretion should be measured regularly in a hypertension clinic, and a rigorous control of blood pressure and of other atherosclerotic risk factors is recommended in hypertensive patients with microalbuminuria.