BACKGROUND--Some patients with hypoxaemic chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) develop sodium and water retention and a subclinical autonomic neuropathy. The possibility that these might be associated has been investigated. METHODS--The ability of 24 patients with COPD to excrete a 6 ml/kg 2.7% intravenous saline or 15 ml/kg oral water load was studied and changes in plasma electrolyte levels, osmolality, plasma aldosterone and vasopressin levels, urinary volume and sodium content, glomerular filtration rate, renal blood flow, and cardiovascular autonomic nerve function were measured. Patients were divided into groups of eight: those in group A (controls) had mild COPD with a Pa02 of > 9 kPa and no oedema, patients in group B were more hypoxaemic but had never been oedematous, whilst those in group C were hypoxaemic and mildly oedematous at the time of the study. RESULTS--Patients in groups B and C excreted less sodium and water during saline loading and a lesser proportion of the water load. Patients in group C had a reduction in renal blood flow and glomerular filtration rate and all had a subclinical autonomic neuropathy, which was also found in three patients in group B. Their plasma aldosterone level was raised but did suppress appropriately on saline loading. Vasopressin levels were abnormally raised for the osmolality in patients in group C and in those with autonomic dysfunction throughout the water load and at 240 minutes after the salt load. Sodium and urine excretion was highly correlated with autonomic dysfunction, aldosterone levels at time zero, and renal blood flow. The 11 patients with autonomic dysfunction were more likely to be oedematous, more hypoxaemic, excreted much less urine and sodium, had lower glomerular filtration rate and renal blood flow, and higher aldosterone and vasopressin levels than the remaining patients. CONCLUSIONS--In patients with COPD the inability to excrete sodium and water is multifactorial. This is the first study to show that autonomic dysfunction is at least associated and might play an important part in the impaired sodium and water homeostasis seen in patients with severe COPD.
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