OBJECTIVE It has been suggested that lymphatics may contribute to ultrafiltration failure in patients on continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD) by absorbing dialysate and ultrafiltrate from the peritoneal cavity. In most studies lymphatic drainage has been estimated from the disappearance of an instilled tracer from the peritoneal cavity or estimated from the appearance of an intraperitoneally administered tracer in the bloodstream. However, in sheep it is possible to cannulate several of the relevant lymphatics that drain the peritoneal cavity and assess lymph drainage parameters directly. The purpose of this study was to estimate lymph drainage from the peritoneal cavity in sheep using the disappearance of tracer from the cavity and the appearance of intraperitoneally instilled tracer in the bloodstream and to compare these results with those obtained from our previous studies using cannulation techniques. DESIGN Experiments were performed in anesthetized and nonanesthetized animals. Volumes of 50 mL/kg of Dianeal 4.25% containing 25 microCi of 125I-albumin were infused into the peritoneal cavity. RESULTS In anesthetized sheep the calculated peritoneal lymph drainage from monitoring the disappearance of tracer from the peritoneal cavity over 6 hours was 1.873 +/- 0.364 mL/kg/hour. Monitoring the appearance of tracer in the blood gave significantly lower peritoneal lymph flow rates of 1.094 +/- 0.241 mL/kg/hour. Directly measured lymph flow rates from our earlier publication were lower still and ranged from 0.156 +/- 0.028-0.265 +/- 0.049 mL/hour/kg, depending on how we estimated the right lymph duct contribution to peritoneal drainage, since we could not cannulate this vessel. We repeated these experiments in conscious sheep. The value for lymph flow estimated from the disappearance of tracer from the peritoneal cavity was 2.398 +/- 0.617 mL/hour/kg and from the appearance of tracer in the blood, 1.424 +/- 0.113 mL/hour/kg. The lymph flow rates monitored from indwelling lymphatic catheters ranged from 1.021 +/- 0.186-1.523 +/- 0.213 mL/hour/kg (again, depending on our estimates for the right lymph duct). CONCLUSIONS Lymph flow rates measured from indwelling lymphatic catheters provided the most conservative values for lymphatic drainage of the peritoneal cavity under dialysis conditions. Estimates of lymphatic drainage based on the appearance of tracer in the blood gave values that were on average higher. The method using the disappearance of tracer from the cavity to estimate lymph flows overestimated peritoneal lymph drainage. Fluid was lost from the peritoneal cavity, and the estimated proportion of liquid lost through lymphatic drainage depended on the technique used to measure lymph flow rates.