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Am J Physiol. 1980 May;238(5):R454-65.

Water flux in animals: analysis of potential errors in the tritiated water method.


Laboratory studies indicate that tritiated water measurements of water flux are accurate to within -7 to +4% in mammals, but errors are larger in some reptiles. However, under conditions that can occur in field studies, errors may be much greater. Influx of environmental water vapor via lungs and skin can cause errors exceeding +/- 50% in some circumstances. If water flux rates in an animal vary through time, errors approach +/- 15% in extreme situations, but are near +/- 3% in more typical circumstances. Errors due to fractional evaporation of tritiated water may approach -9%. This error probably varies between species. Use of an inappropriate equation for calculating water flux from isotope data can cause errors exceeding +/- 100%. The following sources of error are either negligible or avoidable: use of isotope dilution space as a measure of body water volume, loss of nonaqueous tritium bound to excreta, binding of tritium with nonaqueous substances in the body, radiation toxicity effects, and small analytical errors in isotope measurements. Water flux rates measured with tritiated water may be expected to be within +/- 10% of actual flux rates in most situations.

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