The effects of acetate and bicarbonate dialysate on the biochemical and clinical parameters of 16 stable chronic hemodialysis patients were investigated in a double-blind crossover study. A central delivery system was used for both types of dialysates with identical sodium concentrations (138 mEq/liter) and osmolality in a single-pass dialysate flow. The results indicate that dialysis with bicarbonate leads to significantly less hypoxemia (P less than or equal to 0.001) and hypotensive episodes (P less than or equal to 0.002) than with acetate. Pre- to post-dialysis blood pressure changes were also more marked during acetate dialysis. Older patients with recurrent hypotension on acetate benefit most from bicarbonate dialysate. This group of patients appears to metabolize acetate more slowly and has a significantly lower post-dialysis bicarbonate concentration (P less than or equal to 0.005) than asymptomatic patients during dialysis with acetate dialysate.