Arterial underfilling does not cause sodium retention in cirrhosis

Am J Med. 1993 Sep;95(3):286-95. doi: 10.1016/0002-9343(93)90281-s.


Purpose: To test the peripheral arterial vasodilation hypothesis of sodium retention in cirrhosis. This states that sodium retention is triggered by arterial underfilling and predicts that development of sodium retention will be associated with significant and related declines in indices of arterial filling that reverse when sodium retention resolves.

Design: Longitudinal evaluation of a cohort of patients with alcoholic liver disease.

Patients and methods: Eighteen men, 8 of whom were studied twice, 3 three times, 2 four times, and 5 five times (40 between-study comparisons). Between 23 studies, the patients were ascites-free (Group NN). Ascites spontaneously disappeared between seven studies (Group YN), appeared between six studies (Group NY), and remained present between four studies (Group YY). Between-study changes in blood volume, arterial blood pressure, cardiac output, systemic vascular resistance, left atrial volume, left ventricular diastolic diameter, aortic root diameter, aortic blood velocity, plasma norepinephrine and atrial natriuretic factor concentrations, plasma renin activity, and urinary sodium excretion were evaluated by paired t-tests. These changes were also compared among groups by analysis of variance. In addition, correlations among the changes were sought.

Results: Systolic, diastolic, and mean arterial pressures, left ventricular diastolic diameter, aortic root diameter, stroke volume, cardiac output, plasma norepinephrine concentration, and systemic vascular resistance were unchanged between studies. Left atrial volume increased between studies in Group NY. Pulse pressure fell more in Group NY than in Groups NN and YN, principally as a result of a decline in systolic blood pressure. Plasma norepinephrine concentration, plasma renin activity, and blood volume rose more in Group NY than in Groups NN, YN, and YY. Changes in both systolic and pulse pressures were directly correlated with the change in sodium excretion but unrelated to the change in plasma norepinephrine concentration. Changes in plasma norepinephrine concentration and plasma renin activity were unrelated to changes in blood pressure, systemic vascular resistance, and urinary sodium excretion.

Conclusions: None of the indices of arterial filling tested except pulse pressure were related to sodium retention. Reduced pulse pressure is inconsistent with arterial underfilling, as peripheral vasodilation instead increases pulse pressure by increasing diastolic run-off. These data do not support the hypothesis that arterial underfilling is the stimulus for sodium retention in alcoholic cirrhosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Arteries / physiopathology
  • Blood Flow Velocity / physiology
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Hemodynamics / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis / blood
  • Liver Cirrhosis / metabolism*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / physiopathology*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Norepinephrine / blood
  • Pressoreceptors / physiology
  • Sodium / blood
  • Sodium / metabolism*
  • Vascular Resistance / physiology
  • Vasodilation / physiology


  • Sodium
  • Norepinephrine