Erythrocyte sodium-potassium (Na+/K+)-ATPase and sodium-lithium (Na+/Li+) countertransport activities were measured in 18 children (aged 9.6 years, range 6-16 years) with idiopathic hypercalciuria (IHU) to evaluate cellular Na handling. The effect of chronic thiazide administration on these parameters and on bone mineral density was also evaluated. Patients with IHU had significantly lower erythrocyte Na+/K+-ATPase activity than 23 age-matched healthy controls (mean +/- SEM 2,156 +/- 110 micromol P/l erythrocyte per hour vs. 3,165 +/- 175, P < 0.01). Thiazide treatment significantly lowered urinary calcium excretion; this was followed by a slight suppression of intact parathyroid hormone (iPTH). The urinary calcium/creatinine ratio before and during treatment was 0.90 +/- 0.07 mmol/mmol versus 0.51 +/- 0.06 respectively, P < 0.01. The corresponding iPTH levels were 5.9 +/- 0.6 pmol/l and 5.1 +/- 0.7, P < 0.05. The Na+/K+-ATPase activity increased significantly (2,769 +/- 169 micromol P/l erythrocyte per hour vs. 2,156 +/- 110 in the control period, P < 0.01) and the Na+/Li+ countertransport decreased (268 +/- 28 micromol Li/l erythrocyte per hour vs. 328+26 in the control period, P < 0.03). The bone mineral density Z score rose from -1.3 +/- 0.26 to -0.8 +/- 0.22 (P < 0.03). We conclude that IHU is accompanied by abnormalities of erythrocyte Na+/K+-ATPase and Na+/Li+ countertransport which are corrected by chronic hydrochlorothiazide administration. These changes could model alterations in renal tubular transport mechanisms still to be elucidated. Chronic thiazide treatment also has a positive effect on bone mineral density.