Background/aims: The initial abnormalities in the renal sodium handling in patients with cirrhosis before developing ascites remain unknown. The aim of this study is to further characterize sodium metabolism and the effects of sodium loading in preascitic cirrhosis.
Methods: Eight male, preascitic patients with cirrhosis and 6 volunteers had their daily urinary sodium excretion level measured while on a strictly metabolically controlled diet, first consisting of 20 mmol then of 200 mmol sodium per day each for 7 days. Central blood volume, plasma norepinephrine, and atrial natriuretic factor levels were measured during each diet.
Results: Preascitic patients with cirrhosis had significantly less daily urinary sodium excretion on both diets. Volume expansion in the patients with cirrhosis was indicated by significantly greater weight gain and higher atrial natriuretic factor levels for each diet. Patients with cirrhosis had central blood volume expansion (1725 +/- 54 mL/m2) compared with controls (1495 +/- 81 mL/m2; P = 0.03) on a low-sodium diet. This increased significantly in the controls (1864 +/- 164 mL/m2; P = 0.04) on a high-sodium diet, associated with suppression of plasma norepinephrine, but not in the patients with cirrhosis (1679 +/- 107 mL/m2; P > 0.05).
Conclusions: Failure of further central blood volume expansion in the patients with cirrhosis on high-sodium diet in the presence of significant weight gain suggests maldistribution away from the effective arterial blood volume. This study provides further reasons why preascitic patients with cirrhosis might benefit from sodium restriction.