There’s no such thing as a contraction alkalosis

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We recently discussed an excellent paper on the classification of metabolic alkalosis. The three suggested subtypes were primary and secondary stimulation of collecting duct ion transport and exogenous alkali administration. Another interesting editorial was just published in JASN that further expands on the idea that chloride deficiency is central to the maintenance of a metabolic alkalosis. The traditional view of a contraction alkalosis was that in a volume depleted patient, there would be increased reabsorption of sodium in the proximal tubule. Because this sodium must be reabsorbed with an anion, bicarbonate was also reabsorbed in the proximal tubule along with this in preference to chloride, thus perpetuating the alkalosis. The first challenge to this viewpoint came in the 1960s when it was shown that a chloride deficient alkalosis generated by diuretics or gastric aspiration was corrected by treatment with NaCl or KCl but not with Na or K repletion without Cl. This did not however deal with the issue of volume depletion. More recently, the authors of the editorial have shown that a chloride deficient alkalosis could be corrected in rats by infusion of a chloride containing solution despite ongoing volume depletion, while restoration of the ECF volume with albumin did not correct the acid-base abnormality. In fact, the urinary excretion of bicarbonate increased in the rats that received chloride while it fell further in those that received volume expansion with albumin alone. Finally, they treated normal human subjects with a low chloride diet along with furosemide and Na and K supplementation. These subjects developed an alkalosis that was maintained for 5 days and corrected with oral KCl alone without any expansion of plasma volume. This elegantly demonstrated that volume is not the issue in these cases and that it truly is an effect of chloride depletion alone. So what is the mechanism for the maintenance of the alkalosis? Previous posts have discussed the role of Pendrin, the HCO3-Cl exchanger in the collecting duct. The main stimuli for pendrin activation are decreased distal delivery of chloride and intracellular alkalosis. However, where there is little or no distal Cl delivery, it is not available to exchange with HCO3 and thus the alkalosis is maintained. This also helps explain the alkalosis induced by hypokalemia. Hypokalemia induces intracellular acidosis which inhibits HCO3 excretion by pendrin thus exacerbating the extracellular alkalosis. Can we now finally get rid of the concept of a contraction alkalosis?


  1. Hi,
    Would you still think it is only Cl depletion that causes alkalosis? How about RAS and hypokalemia?
    Would love to hear your input.

    Thank you

  2. Yes, totally agree. I have been saying this to my fellows for a long time. There is also an editorial in NephSAP by Galla and Luke about this

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