Unmeasured cations: Probable cause of relatively low anion gap in chronic renal failure

Chirag Parikh, Geeta Gyamlani, Norman Panlilio, Christos P. Carvounis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is commonly believed that the electrolyte pattern in the patients with chronic renal failure (CRF)is associated with high anion gap (AG) and low serum bicarbonate (HCO3). However it was seen in many clinical studies that the AG is normal or only minimally increased in such patients. It is also known that organic cations, in particular guanidines, also increase in the serum of patients with CRF. We thus postulated that the relatively small increase in AG could be. in part, explained by the coexistent increase in unmeasured cations. If this is true, one may expect that the serum osmolality measured directly will be higher than the estimated one, leading to an osmolar gap (OG). Previous studies have shown that indeed OG exists in patients with CRF. We proceeded to determine SMA-7. AG, and OG simultaneously in ambulatory, undialyzed CRF patients with serum creatinine between 4 and 12 mg/dL. These investigations were also done on nine patients, after dialysis, who went on to have dialysis. The patients were divided into the normal AG (AG ≤ 14) and a high AG (AG > 14) groups. There was no correlation of serum bicarbonate with degree of renal dysfunction. Serum AG influenced HCO3 only in the patients with high AG group (bicarbonate = 23.85 - 0.69 (ΔAG), r2 = 0.45). In patients with normal anion gap there was a good correlation between ΔAG and OG (ΔAG = 3.4 - 0.15 OG, r = 0.46, r2 = 0.21. p < 0.05). Thus serum bicarbonate appears to be controlled by both AG and OG. Following dialysis, OG decreased from 15.5 ± 1.06 to 6.08 ± 1.71. p < 0.01. We conclude that OG must be made up of unmeasured cations of low molecular weight as it normalizes the AG, and gets cleared after dialysis. These low molecular weight substances could be guanidines, such as guanidosuccinic acid and methylguanidine, which are increased by one hundred fold in CRF.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)91-96
Number of pages6
JournalRenal Failure
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Chronic renal failure
  • Guanidines
  • Metabolic acidosis
  • Osmolar gap

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine
  • Nephrology


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