The kidney in congestive heart failure: 'are natriuresis, sodium, and diuretics really the good, the bad and the ugly?'

Eur J Heart Fail. 2014 Feb;16(2):133-42. doi: 10.1002/ejhf.35. Epub 2013 Dec 9.


This review discusses renal sodium handling in heart failure. Increased sodium avidity and tendency to extracellular volume overload, i.e. congestion, are hallmark features of the heart failure syndrome. Particularly in the case of concomitant renal dysfunction, the kidneys often fail to elicit potent natriuresis. Yet, assessment of renal function is generally performed by measuring serum creatinine, which has inherent limitations as a biomarker for the glomerular filtration rate (GFR). Moreover, glomerular filtration only represents part of the nephron's function. Alterations in the fractional reabsorptive rate of sodium are at least equally important in emerging therapy-refractory congestion. Indeed, renal blood flow decreases before the GFR is affected in congestive heart failure. The resulting increased filtration fraction changes Starling forces in peritubular capillaries, which drive sodium reabsorption in the proximal tubules. Congestion further stimulates this process by augmenting renal lymph flow. Consequently, fractional sodium reabsorption in the proximal tubules is significantly increased, limiting sodium delivery to the distal nephron. Orthosympathetic activation probably plays a pivotal role in those deranged intrarenal haemodynamics, which ultimately enhance diuretic resistance, stimulate neurohumoral activation with aldosterone breakthrough, and compromise the counter-regulatory function of natriuretic peptides. Recent evidence even suggests that intrinsic renal derangements might impair natriuresis early on, before clinical congestion or neurohumoral activation are evident. This represents a paradigm shift in heart failure pathophysiology, as it suggests that renal dysfunction-although not by conventional GFR measurements-is driving disease progression. In this respect, a better understanding of renal sodium handling in congestive heart failure is crucial to achieve more tailored decongestive therapy, while preserving renal function.

Keywords: Congestive heart failure; Diuretics; Kidney; Natriuretic peptides; Sodium.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Atrial Natriuretic Factor / metabolism
  • Diuretics / therapeutic use
  • Glomerular Filtration Rate
  • Heart Failure / complications
  • Heart Failure / drug therapy
  • Heart Failure / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Kidney / metabolism*
  • Kidney Glomerulus / metabolism
  • Kidney Tubules / metabolism
  • Natriuretic Peptide, Brain / metabolism
  • Renal Circulation
  • Renal Insufficiency, Chronic / complications
  • Renal Insufficiency, Chronic / metabolism*
  • Sodium / metabolism*
  • Water-Electrolyte Imbalance / complications
  • Water-Electrolyte Imbalance / metabolism*


  • Diuretics
  • Natriuretic Peptide, Brain
  • Atrial Natriuretic Factor
  • Sodium