1. This study assesses the effects of sodium status on venous responsiveness to noradrenaline and the neurohumoral profile in pre-ascitic cirrhotic patients. Eight cirrhotic patients and ten control subjects were studied after both a low (20 mmol/day) and a high (200 mmol/day) sodium diet. Venous responsiveness to increasing doses of noradrenaline in a dorsal hand vein and various plasma hormone levels were measured. Maximal response (Rmax.) and the dose of noradrenaline that yielded 50% of Rmax (ED50) were then calculated.

2. A significantly smaller dorsal hand vein diameter was observed in the control subjects on a low sodium (2.23 ± 0.14 mm) compared with a high sodium (2.57 ± 0.15 mm; P = 0.04) diet, but not in the cirrhotic patients. Rmax. was not significantly different in either group on both diets. With low sodium intake, ED50 was similar in the two groups. However, on high sodium intake, control subjects had a significantly higher ED50 (34.4 ± 7.4 ng/min) than the cirrhotic patients (5.03 ± 0.86 ng/min; P < 0.003). Plasma noradrenaline in the control subjects fell significantly with the change from a low (1.29 ± 0.11 nmol/l) to a high (0.68 ± 0.09 nmol/l; P < 0.001) sodium diet, but remained elevated in the cirrhotic patients. Cirrhotic patients had significantly higher atrial natriuretic factor levels and lower plasma renin activity than the control subjects on both diets.

3. In conclusion, pre-ascitic cirrhotic patients show no evidence of venodilatation. Their sympathetic nervous activity is not suppressible by volume expansion. Relative hyper-responsiveness of the peripheral venous circulation to adrenergic stimulation with high sodium intake is present.

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