Bartter Syndrome: A Rare Genetic Disorder Affecting Salt and Water Balance

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Bartter’s Syndrome: A Rare Inherited Condition Affecting Salt and Fluid Balance


Bartter’s syndrome is a rare inherited genetic disorder characterized by the kidneys’ inability to properly reabsorb salt and fluid. This malfunction leads to a cascade of physiological disturbances, resulting in abnormal electrolyte levels, dehydration, and impaired growth. Affecting both children and adults, Bartter’s syndrome is classified into several types based on the specific genetic mutations responsible for its development.

Causes and Inheritance

Bartter’s syndrome is caused by mutations in genes that encode proteins involved in the ion transport mechanisms of the kidneys. These proteins are crucial for the reabsorption of salt and fluid, particularly sodium, potassium, and chloride ions. Mutations in these genes disrupt the normal function of these proteins, leading to excessive loss of salt and fluid in the urine.

The inheritance pattern of Bartter’s syndrome varies depending on the type. Most commonly, it is inherited in an autosomal recessive manner, meaning that an individual must inherit two copies of the mutated gene, one from each parent. However, in some cases, it can also be inherited in an autosomal dominant manner, where inheriting just one copy of the mutated gene is sufficient to cause the condition.

Types of Bartter’s Syndrome

Bartter’s syndrome is classified into several types based on the specific genetic mutations that cause it. Each type is characterized by a distinct pattern of electrolyte imbalances and clinical manifestations:

Type 1: Caused by mutations in the SLC12A1 gene, which encodes the Na-K-2Cl cotransporter. Type 1 is the most severe form and presents in infancy, leading to severe salt and fluid loss, electrolyte imbalances, and failure to thrive.

Type 2: Caused by mutations in the CLCNKB gene, which encodes the ClC-Kb chloride channel. Type 2 is less severe than Type 1 and typically presents in early childhood. It is characterized by moderate salt and fluid loss, hypokalemia (low potassium levels), and impaired growth.

Type 3: Caused by mutations in the BSND gene, which encodes the barttin protein. Type 3 is milder than Types 1 and 2 and can present at any age. It is associated with milder electrolyte imbalances and may not cause any significant clinical manifestations.

Type 4: Caused by mutations in the ROMK gene, which encodes the ROMK potassium channel. Type 4 is a milder form that resembles Type 3 and is characterized by subtle electrolyte imbalances and minimal clinical symptoms.

Symptoms of Bartter’s Syndrome

The symptoms of Bartter’s syndrome can vary depending on the severity of the condition and the underlying genetic mutation. Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Dehydration: Constant thirst, dry mouth, decreased urination
  • Electrolyte imbalances: Low sodium, potassium, and chloride levels in the blood
  • Acid-base imbalance: Metabolic alkalosis due to loss of hydrogen ions in the urine
  • Failure to thrive in children
  • Polyuria: Increased urine output
  • Muscle weakness and fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Slowed growth
  • Hypokalemic periodic paralysis in severe cases: Temporary muscle weakness or paralysis brought on by low potassium levels

Diagnosis of Bartter’s Syndrome

Diagnosing Bartter’s syndrome typically involves a combination of clinical findings, laboratory tests, and genetic analysis:

  • Medical history and physical examination: A detailed medical history and physical examination can provide clues to the presence of Bartter’s syndrome, such as symptoms of dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and impaired growth.

  • Blood tests: Blood tests reveal electrolyte imbalances, including low sodium, potassium, and chloride levels, as well as elevated bicarbonate levels indicating metabolic alkalosis.

  • Urine tests: Urine tests may show high levels of sodium, potassium, and chloride in the urine, indicating excessive loss of these ions.

  • Genetic testing: Genetic testing can identify mutations in the genes associated with Bartter’s syndrome, confirming the diagnosis and determining the specific type of the condition.

Treatment of Bartter’s Syndrome

The treatment of Bartter’s syndrome focuses on managing electrolyte imbalances, preventing dehydration, and addressing any associated complications. Treatment may include:

  • Salt replacement: Oral or intravenous salt solutions are administered to replenish lost electrolytes and prevent dehydration.

  • Potassium supplements: Potassium supplements may be necessary to correct low potassium levels.

  • Loop diuretics: Loop diuretics, such as furosemide, can increase urine output and further promote electrolyte loss. This strategy is used to counteract the excessive salt reabsorption caused by Bartter’s syndrome.

  • NSAIDs: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as indomethacin, can help reduce prostaglandin production in the kidneys, which can improve salt and fluid reabsorption.

  • Potassium-sparing diuretics: Potassium-sparing diuretics, such as amiloride or spironolactone, can help conserve potassium while promoting sodium excretion.

Prognosis and Complications

The prognosis for individuals with Bartter’s syndrome varies depending on the severity of the condition and the effectiveness of treatment. With proper management, most individuals can lead full and active lives. However, if left untreated, Bartter’s syndrome can lead to severe complications, such as:

  • Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances
  • Kidney stones
  • Renal failure
  • Osteoporosis
  • Growth retardation
  • Hyperparathyroidism
  • Hypomagnesemia


Bartter’s syndrome is a complex inherited condition that affects salt and fluid balance in the kidneys. It is characterized by electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, and impaired growth, and its severity varies depending on the underlying genetic mutation. Treatment focuses on managing electrolyte imbalances, preventing dehydration, and addressing associated complications. With proper management, most individuals with Bartter’s syndrome can live full and active lives.

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