Abstract. Renal tubular sodium handling was evaluated in 27 non-azotemic cirrhotic patients with ascites and positive sodium balance and in 17 controls after at least 5 days of a constant sodium intake using the lithium clearance as an index of fluid delivery to the distal tubule. Plasma renin activity and plasma aldos-terone were also evaluated. Sodium fractional excretion, filtered sodium load, absolute sodium distal delivery, lithium fractional excretion and absolute distal sodium reabsorption were significantly lower in cirrhotics than in controls (0.58 ± 0.11 vs. 1.29 ± 0.12%, < 0.001; 12529± 677 vs. 15707±796 μEq min−1 1.73 m−2 BSA, <0.005; 2384±135.2 vs. 3685±219.3 μEq min−1 1.73 m−2 BSA, < 0.001; 19.5±1.0 vs. 24.2±l.3%, < 0.01; 2299±127 vs. 3485±214 μEq min−1 1.73 m−2 BSA, <0.001, respectively). A correlation was found between lithium clearance and sodium clearance only in cirrhotic patients (r = 0.62; <0.01). Distal sodium reabsorption evaluated as a per cent of filtered sodium load was lower in cirrhotics than in controls (19.1 ±1.0 vs. 22.4±1.2%, <0.05) while distal sodium reabsorption evaluated as a per cent of sodium distal delivery was higher in cirrhotics than in controls (96.7 ± 0.4 vs. 94.4± 0.5%,< 0.005). In both groups a correlation was found between log plasma aldosterone and distal sodium reabsorption evaluated as a per cent of absolute sodium distal delivery (r = 0.61, <0.01 and r=0.52,<0.05 respectively).
Our study indicates that a decrease in filtered sodium load and an increase in proximal sodium reabsorption play a critical role in the impairment of renal sodium handling in non-azotemic cirrhotic patients with ascites.