Approach and management of dysnatremias in cirrhosis

Hepatol Int. 2018 Nov;12(6):487-499. doi: 10.1007/s12072-018-9894-6. Epub 2018 Sep 10.


Hypervolemic (dilutional) hyponatremia is the most common dysnatremia in cirrhosis, with a prevalence close to 50% in patients with ascites, while hypovolemic hyponatremia occurs in a minority of cases. Hyponatremia carries a poor prognosis, being associated with increased mortality and reduced survival after liver transplantation. Hypernatremia is rarer and is also associated with an adverse prognosis. Increased non-osmotic secretion of arginine vasopressin and altered renal tubular sodium handling due to impaired free water generation are the mechanisms leading to hypervolemic hyponatremia, while diuretic-induced fluid loss is the main cause of hypovolemic hyponatremia. Hypernatremia usually follows hypotonic fluid losses due to osmotic diuresis (glycosuria) or lactulose-induced diarrhea. The main clinical manifestations of dysnatremias are due to their effects on the central nervous system: astroglial cell hyperhydration follows hyponatremia-an abnormality that exacerbates ammonia neurotoxicity-while the opposite abnormality occurs with hypernatremia. Asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic hypervolemic hyponatremia is mainly managed by correcting of precipitating factors and non-osmotic fluid restriction. Severe, life-threatening hyponatremia requires hypertonic saline infusion, avoiding rapid and complete correction of serum sodium concentration to prevent neurological sequelae such as osmotic demyelination. V2 receptor blockade by vaptans may be considered in patients with sustained hyponatremia waitlisted for liver transplantation. Diuretic withdrawal and plasma volume expansion are required in hypovolemic hypernatremia. Prompt recognition, removal of the precipitating factor(s) and non-osmotic fluid administration represent the mainstays of hypernatremia management. Rapid correction of long-standing hypernatremia can lead to cerebral edema and has to be avoided.

Keywords: Cirrhosis; Hepatic encephalopathy; Hypernatremia; Hyponatremia; Management; Pathophysiology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Central Nervous System Diseases / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypernatremia / etiology
  • Hypernatremia / physiopathology
  • Hypernatremia / therapy
  • Hyponatremia / etiology
  • Hyponatremia / physiopathology*
  • Hyponatremia / prevention & control
  • Hyponatremia / therapy*
  • Hypovolemia / complications
  • Hypovolemia / prevention & control
  • Liver Cirrhosis / complications*