The contribution of peritoneal cavity lymphatic absorption to ultrafiltration kinetics and solute clearances in continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis was evaluated in patients with normal (group 1) and high (group 2) peritoneal permeability X area during 4-h exchanges using 2 liters 2.5% dextrose dialysis solution with 30 g added albumin. Cumulative lymphatic drainage in all continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD) patients averaged 358 +/- 47 ml per 4-h exchange and reduced cumulative net transcapillary ultrafiltration at the end of the exchange by 58 +/- 7.2%. The peak ultrafiltration volume was observed before osmotic equilibrium between serum and dialysate was reached and occurred when the net transcapillary ultrafiltration rate had decreased to equal the lymphatic absorption rate. Thereafter the lymphatic absorption rate exceeded the net transcapillary ultrafiltration rate, and intraperitoneal volume decreased. Extrapolated to 4 X 2 liters, 2.5% dextrose, 6-h exchanges per d, lymphatic drainage reduced potential daily net ultrafiltration by 83.2 +/- 10.2%, daily urea clearance by 16.9 +/- 1.9%, and daily creatinine clearance by 16.5 +/- 1.9%. Although lymphatic absorption did not differ between the two groups, lymphatic drainage caused a proportionately greater reduction in net ultrafiltration in group 2 (P less than 0.025), because these patients had more rapid dialysate glucose absorption (P less than 0.05) and less cumulative transcapillary ultrafiltration (P less than 0.01). These findings indicate that cumulative lymphatic drainage significantly reduces net ultrafiltration and solute clearances in CAPD and that ultrafiltration failure in CAPD occurs when daily lymphatic absorption equals or exceeds daily transcapillary ultrafiltration. Reduction of lymphatic absorption may provide a means for future improvement in the efficiency of CAPD.