Abstract Hyperglycemia has been identified as one of the important factors involved in the microvascular complications of diabetes, and has been related to increased cardiovascular mortality. Endothelial damage and dysfunction result from diabetes; therefore, the aim of this study was to determine the response of endothelial cells to stressful stimuli, modelled in normal and high glucose concentrations in vitro. EAhy 926 endothelial cells were cultured in 5 mmol/L or 30 mmol/L glucose conditions for a 24 hour period and oxidative stress was induced by exposure to hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) or tumour necrosis factor- α (TNF- α), following which the protective effect of the glucocorticoid dexamethasone was assessed. Apoptosis, necrosis and cell viability were determined using an ELISA for DNA fragmentation, an enzymatic lactate dehydrogenase assay and an MTT assay, respectively. High glucose significantly increased the susceptibility of EAhy 926 cells to apoptosis in the presence of 500 μmol/L H2O2 , above that induced in normal glucose (P<0.02). A reduction of H2O2- and TNF-α-induced apoptosis occurred in both high and low glucose after treatment with dexamethasone (P<0.05). Conclusion high glucose is effective in significantly augmenting stress caused by H2O2, but not in causing stress alone. These findings suggest a mechanism by which short term hyperglycemia may facilitate and augment endothelial damage.