Long-term peritoneal dialysis requires the maintenance of the transport function of the peritoneal membrane, and appropriate studies of possible changes are necessary. The quantification of peritoneal mass transfer coefficients (MTCs) has been judged to be the ideal method for the evaluation of peritoneal diffusion. The aim of the present study was to show the results of the prospective evaluations in long-term continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis patients. We have studied the clinical incidents and peritoneal function of 56 patients who started continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis between 1980 and 1988, and have completed at least 3 years of follow-up. Ultrafiltration capacity was calculated with a standardized formula. All patients were studied for peritoneal diffusion of urea and creatinine at least once a year. The evaluation consisted of a kinetic study done by means of a peritoneal equilibration curve for urea and creatinine, applying a bicompartmental mathematical model to calculate the MTCs. The sequential mean values for urea-MTC did not show significant changes over the observation period (20.7 +/- 5.9 mL/min for the first year v 19.8 +/- 6 mL/min for the fifth year). Creatinine-MTC values showed a significant increase over this period in the paired data analysis. The decrease of the urea-MTC to creatinine-MTC ratio may be an early and appropriate index for measuring these changes when the individual values are in the normal range. On the other hand, peritoneal ultrafiltration capacity significantly decreased over this period (1,800 +/- 530 mL/d v 1,400 +/- 600 mL/d, P < 0.01). The high rate of accumulated days of peritoneal inflammation was related to these significant changes, and thus may be proposed to be a good prognostic index of long-term peritoneal survival. These long-term functional changes might be related to the effect of injuries on the preservation of the normal peritoneal structure. We conclude that after 5 to 11 years, the human peritoneum shows functional stability (diffusion and water transport) in patients with low rates of peritoneal inflammation. With a few exceptions, represented by patients with a high rate of peritoneal inflammation, long-term peritoneal dialysis accomplished its newly entrusted task.