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Bartter Syndrome and Gitelman Syndrome

(Bartter's Syndrome; Gitelman's Syndrome)

By Christopher J. LaRosa, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics; Attending Physician, Division of Pediatric Nephrology, Perelman School of Medicine at The University of Pennsylvania; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

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Bartter syndrome and Gitelman syndrome are characterized by fluid, electrolyte, urinary, and hormonal abnormalities, including renal potassium, sodium, chloride, and hydrogen wasting; hypokalemia; hyperreninemia and hyperaldosteronism without hypertension; and metabolic alkalosis. Findings include electrolyte, growth, and sometimes neuromuscular abnormalities. Diagnosis is assisted by urine electrolyte measurements and hormone assays but is typically a diagnosis of exclusion. Treatment consists of NSAIDs, potassium-sparing diuretics, low-dose ACE inhibitors, and electrolyte replacement.


Bartter syndrome and the more common Gitelman syndrome result from deranged sodium chloride reabsorption. In Bartter syndrome, the defect is in the ascending thick limb of the loop of Henle. In Gitelman syndrome, the defect is in the distal tubule. In both syndromes, the impairment of sodium chloride reabsorption causes mild volume depletion, which leads to increases in renin and aldosterone release, resulting in potassium and hydrogen losses. In Bartter syndrome, there is increased prostaglandin secretion as well as a urinary concentrating defect due to impaired generation of the medullary concentration gradient. In Gitelman syndrome, hypomagnesemia and a low urinary calcium excretion are common. In both disorders, sodium wasting contributes to a chronic mild plasma volume contraction reflected by a normal to low BP despite high renin and angiotensin levels.

The features at clinical presentation vary (see Table: Some Differences Between Bartter Syndrome and Gitelman Syndrome).

Some Differences Between Bartter Syndrome and Gitelman Syndrome


Bartter Syndrome

Gitelman Syndrome

Location of kidney defect

Ascending loop of Henle (mimics effects of loop diuretics)

Distal tubule (mimics effects of thiazides)

Urinary calcium excretion

Normal or increased, commonly with nephrocalcinosis


Serum magnesium level

Normal or decreased

Decreased, sometimes greatly

Renal prostaglandin E2 production



Usual age at presentation

Before birth to early childhood, often with intellectual disability and growth disturbance

Late childhood to adulthood

Neuromuscular symptoms (eg, muscle spasms, weakness)

Uncommon or mild



Both syndromes are usually autosomal recessive, although sporadic cases and other types of familial patterns can occur. There are several genotypes of both syndromes; different genotypes can have different manifestations.

Symptoms and Signs

Bartter syndrome tends to manifest prenatally or during infancy or early childhood. Gitelman syndrome tends to manifest during late childhood to adulthood. Bartter syndrome can manifest prenatally with intrauterine growth restriction and polyhydramnios. Different forms of Bartter syndrome can have specific manifestations, including hearing loss, hypocalcemia, and nephrocalcinosis, depending on the underlying genetic defect. Children with Bartter syndrome, more so than those with Gitelman syndrome, may be born prematurely and may have poor growth and development postnatally, and some children have intellectual disability.

Most patients have low or low-normal BP and may have signs of volume depletion. Inability to retain potassium, calcium, or magnesium can lead to muscle weakness, cramping, spasms, tetany, or fatigue, particularly in Gitelman syndrome. Polydipsia, polyuria, and vomiting may be present.

In general, neither Bartter syndrome nor Gitelman syndrome typically leads to chronic renal insufficiency.


  • Serum and urine electrolyte levels

  • Exclusion of similar disorders

Bartter syndrome and Gitelman syndrome should be suspected in children with characteristic symptoms or incidentally noted laboratory abnormalities, such as metabolic alkalosis and hypokalemia. Measurement of urine electrolytes shows high levels of sodium, potassium, and chloride that are inappropriate for the euvolemic or hypovolemic state of the patient. Diagnosis is by exclusion of other disorders:

  • Primary and secondary aldosteronism can often be distinguished by the presence of hypertension and normal or low plasma levels of renin (see Table: Differential Diagnosis of Aldosteronism).

  • Surreptitious vomiting or laxative abuse can often be distinguished by low levels of urinary chloride (usually < 20 mmol/L).

  • Surreptitious diuretic abuse can often be distinguished by low levels of urinary chloride and by a urine assay for diuretics.

Definitive diagnosis is through genetic testing, which is rarely done because of factors such as the large number of known mutations, large gene size, and prohibitive cost.

A 24-h measurement of urinary calcium or the urine calcium/creatinine ratio may help distinguish the two syndromes; the levels are typically normal to increased in Bartter syndrome and low in Gitelman syndrome.


  • NSAIDs (for Bartter syndrome)

  • Spironolactone or amiloride

  • Low-dose ACE inhibitors

  • Potassium and magnesium supplements

Because renal prostaglandin E2 secretion contributes to the pathogenesis in Bartter syndrome, NSAIDs (eg, indomethacin 1 to 2 mg/kg po once/day) are helpful; patients are also given potassium-sparing diuretics (eg, spironolactone 150 mg po bid or amiloride 10 to 20 mg po bid). Potassium-sparing diuretics alone are used in Gitelman syndrome. Low-dose ACE inhibitors can help limit the aldosterone-mediated electrolyte derangements. However, no therapy can completely eliminate potassium wasting, and potassium supplementation (KCl 20 to 40 mEq po once/day or bid) is often necessary. Magnesium supplements may also be needed.

Exogenous growth hormone can be considered to treat short stature.

Key Points

  • Both syndromes have impaired sodium chloride reabsorption, which causes mild volume depletion, leading to increases in renin and aldosterone release, resulting in urinary potassium and hydrogen losses.

  • Manifestations vary depending on genotype, but growth and development may be affected and electrolyte abnormalities may cause muscle weakness, cramping, spasms, tetany, or fatigue.

  • Diagnosis involves serum and urinary electrolyte measurement; genetic testing is rarely done.

  • Treatment involves potassium and sometimes magnesium replacement. Potassium-sparing diuretics and low-dose ACE inhibitors may be used; for Bartter syndrome, NSAIDs may be added.

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