To identify prognostic factors in cirrhotic patients admitted to the hospital for the treatment of an episode of ascites, a survival analysis was performed in a series of 139 patients hospitalized in our Unit between 1980 and 1985. Mean follow-up was 12.8 +/- 14.2 mo (mean +/- SD). A total of 38 variables based on history, physical examination, hepatic biochemical tests, renal function tests, and endogenous vasoactive systems were analyzed for prognostic value. Eighteen of these variables had prognostic value in the univariate analysis. A multivariate analysis (Cox's regression method) disclosed that 7 of these 18 variables had independent prognostic value. Of these independent predictors of survival, mean arterial pressure and plasma norepinephrine concentration were the variables that best predicted prognosis. Two other variables that independently correlated with survival were urinary sodium excretion and glomerular filtration rate. The remaining three independent predictors of survival were nutritional status, hepatomegaly, and serum albumin concentration. Therefore, these findings indicate that, in patients with cirrhosis and ascites, parameters estimating systemic hemodynamics and renal function are better predictors of survival than those routinely used to estimate hepatic function.