Published online Jan 6, 2018. doi: 10.5527/wjn.v7.i1.1
Peer-review started: September 19, 2017
First decision: October 23, 2017
Revised: November 16, 2017
Accepted: November 27, 2017
Article in press: November 27, 2017
Published online: January 6, 2018
The regulation of body fluid balance is a key concern in health and disease and comprises three concepts. The first concept pertains to the relationship between total body water (TBW) and total effective solute and is expressed in terms of the tonicity of the body fluids. Disturbances in tonicity are the main factor responsible for changes in cell volume, which can critically affect brain cell function and survival. Solutes distributed almost exclusively in the extracellular compartment (mainly sodium salts) and in the intracellular compartment (mainly potassium salts) contribute to tonicity, while solutes distributed in TBW have no effect on tonicity. The second body fluid balance concept relates to the regulation and measurement of abnormalities of sodium salt balance and extracellular volume. Estimation of extracellular volume is more complex and error prone than measurement of TBW. A key function of extracellular volume, which is defined as the effective arterial blood volume (EABV), is to ensure adequate perfusion of cells and organs. Other factors, including cardiac output, total and regional capacity of both arteries and veins, Starling forces in the capillaries, and gravity also affect the EABV. Collectively, these factors interact closely with extracellular volume and some of them undergo substantial changes in certain acute and chronic severe illnesses. Their changes result not only in extracellular volume expansion, but in the need for a larger extracellular volume compared with that of healthy individuals. Assessing extracellular volume in severe illness is challenging because the estimates of this volume by commonly used methods are prone to large errors in many illnesses. In addition, the optimal extracellular volume may vary from illness to illness, is only partially based on volume measurements by traditional methods, and has not been determined for each illness. Further research is needed to determine optimal extracellular volume levels in several illnesses. For these reasons, extracellular volume in severe illness merits a separate third concept of body fluid balance.
Core tip: The regulation and clinical disturbances of body fluid and its compartments are traditionally consigned to two concepts. The concept of tonicity of body fluids is critical in the regulation of the volume of body cells. Disturbances in tonicity result from abnormalities in the relation between body water and body solute. The concept of extracellular volume plays a critical role in the regulation of perfusion of body cells and organs. Disturbances in extracellular volume result primarily from abnormalities in sodium salt balance. Various methods for measuring body water and extracellular volume have been extensively applied in clinical practice. However, precise determination of the optimal body fluid volumes encounters difficulties which are greatly accentuated in severe illnesses, because several other factors interacting with extracellular volume in determining tissue perfusion, including cardiac output, capacity of the blood vessels, and Starling forces, are significantly altered in these illnesses. The aforementioned factors cause changes in the extracellular volume and create the need for optimal levels of this volume that are higher than those of healthy individuals and the need for newer methods for evaluating body fluid volumes. Thus, fluid regulation in severe illness represents an evolving concept of body fluid balance separate from the two traditional concepts. Important questions about this third concept remain unanswered underscoring the need for further research.