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Renal failure secondary to hepatorenal syndrome or to organic renal disease occurs frequently in cirrhotic patients with portal hypertension. The present prospective study investigates the usefulness of terlipressin in both the diagnostic and the therapeutic approach to cirrhotics with renal failure.Sixteen patients were studied: 11 with hepatorenal syndrome type 2 (group 1) and five with organic renal disease (group 2). All received terlipressin (1 mg/4 h intravenously) for 7 days. Subsequently, 12 patients (nine from group 1 and three from group 2) underwent a transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt.Terlipressin significantly improved renal function (serum creatinine, 1.8 ± 0.8 versus 2.4 ± 0.9 mg/dl; blood creatinine clearance, 53 ± 8 versus 21.3 ± 8.7 ml/min; P< 0.05) in group 1 [8/11 patients (73%) versus 1/5 (20%) of group 2; P< 0.05]. The only patient in group 2 who responded to terlipressin had a mixed renal dysfunction. Renal function improved significantly after transjugular portosystemic shunt in all patients who responded to terlipressin. Terlipressin administration significantly improves renal function in cirrhotic patients with hepatorenal syndrome type 2 but not in organic kidney failure. By providing the critical information that a patient's kidney function is (or is not) reversible, a trial with terlipressin may be useful when selecting cirrhotic patients with renal failure as candidates for a transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt or liver transplantation.