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Abstract

Cirrhotic patients with ascites refractory to diuretics also have blunted response to marked elevations of plasma atrial natriuretic factor levels alone or to moderate intravascular volume expansion by head-out water immersion. However, these patients usually undergo natriuresis after peritoneovenous shunting. To dissect the factors responsible for this response, we studied the effects on separate days of moderate intravascular volume expansion and highly elevated plasma atrial natriuretic factor levels (head-out water immersion and atrial natriuretic factor infusion) or marked volume expansion and moderate plasma atrial natriuretic factor level elevation (head-out water immersion and albumin infusion) in 13 alcoholic cirrhotic patients with massive ascites. Three of these patients, who responded to initial head-out water immersion with a negative sodium balance, served as controls. Unresponsiveness to head-out water immersion was confirmed in the remaining 10 patients on both days on the basis of blunted natriuretic response (urinary sodium excretion < 0.8 mmol/hr after 2 hr). In contrast, these 10 refractory patients were able to achieve negative sodium balance with both combinations. Mean urinary sodium excretion increased from a baseline level of 0.13 ± 0.10 mmol/hr to a peak level of 2.29 ± 0.61 mmol/hr after head-out water immersion and atrial natriuretic factor infusion and from 0.10 ± 0.3 mmol/hr to 1.61 ± 0.62 mmol/hr after head-out water immersion and albumin infusion. Both maneuvers were associated with suppression of plasma renin activity and serum aldosterone levels. With head-out water immersion and atrial natriuretic factor infusion, we noted a significant increase in 5′ cyclic GMP levels, a second messenger of atrial natriuretic factor, indicating possible activation of atrial natriuretic factor receptors at the inner medullary collecting ducts. In contrast, with head-out water immersion and albumin infusion no such increase in levels occurred, indicating that the increase in urinary sodium excretion was mainly due to increased delivery of sodium to the cortical distal nephron, as indicated by a disproportionate increase in urinary potassium excretion. In conclusion, massive (as opposed to moderate) volume expansion or greatly elevated levels of plasma atrial natriuretic factor associated with moderate volume expansion can improve blunted atrial natriuretic factor responsiveness in cirrhotic patients with refractory ascites. This appears to be achieved by way of a marked increase in distal delivery of filtrate in the kidney, with or without activation of distal atrial natriuretic factor receptors in the inner medullary collecting ducts. (HEPATOLOGY 1993;18:519–528.)