To investigate the usefulness of paracentesis as an alternative treatment for ascites, 41 cirrhotic patients with 'tense' ascites were randomly assigned to treatment with either repeated paracenteses plus i.v. albumin infusion (n = 20) or diuretics (n = 21). Satisfactory mobilization of ascites was obtained with paracentesis in all but one case and with diuretics in all but two cases. Ascites disappeared within 3 or 4 days with paracentesis, but only after 15 days with diuretics. The rate of reaccumulation of ascites following paracentesis, without diuretic administration, exceeded 300 g/day in only 5 patients. The incidence of complications and the mortality rate were similar in both groups of patients during hospital stay and during follow-up. This was corroborated by the evidence that no negative changes were induced in clinical and laboratory parameters of hemodynamic, hepatic and renal function after evacuation of the ascites. These results confirm that repeated paracenteses combined with human albumin replacement are safe and effective for treating 'tense' ascites, and more rapid than traditional diuretic therapy.