During a 10 year period, 14 out of 227 patients (6.2%) undergoing continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD) developed permanent loss of ultrafiltration capacity (UFC). The risk of UFC loss increased from 2.6% after one year to 30.9% after six years of treatment. A six hour, single dwell study with glucose 3.86% dialysis fluid was carried out in nine of the UFC loss patients and in 18 CAPD patients with normal UFC. Intraperitoneal dialysate volumes were calculated using 131I-tagged albumin (RISA) as volume marker with a correction applied for its elimination from the peritoneal cavity. The RISA elimination coefficient (KE), which can serve as an estimation of the upper limit of the lymphatic flow, was also calculated. Diffusive mass transport coefficients (KBD) for investigated solutes (glucose, creatinine, urea, potassium, total protein, albumin and beta 2-microglobulin) were calculated during a period of dialysate isovolemia. Two patterns of UFC loss were observed: (a) seven patients had high KBD values for small solutes resulting in rapid uptake of glucose, whereas KBD values for proteins were normal; (b) two patients had normal KBD values but a threefold increase both in the fluid reabsorption rate and KE. We conclude that loss of the osmotic driving force (due to increased diffusive mass transport for small solutes) and increased fluid reabsorption (possibly due to increased lymphatic reabsorption) are the two major causes of permanent loss of UFC in CAPD patients.