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Polycystic kidney disease

Definition

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is a kidney disorder passed down through families. In this disease, many cysts form in the kidneys, causing them to become enlarged.

Alternative Names

Cysts - kidneys; Kidney - polycystic; Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease; ADPKD

Causes

PKD is passed down through families (inherited). The two inherited forms of PKD are autosomal dominant and autosomal recessive.

People with PKD have many clusters of cysts in the kidneys. What exactly triggers the cysts to form is unknown.

PKD is associated with the following conditions:

As many as half of people with PKD have cysts in the liver.

Symptoms

Symptoms of PKD may include any of the following:

Exams and Tests

An examination may show:

Tests that may be done include:

People with a personal or family history of PKD who have headaches should be tested to determine if cerebral aneurysms are the cause.

PKD and cysts on the liver or other organs may be found using the following tests:

If several members of your family have PKD, genetic tests can be done to determine whether you carry the PKD gene.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to control symptoms and prevent complications. Treatment may include:

  • Blood pressure medicines
  • Diuretics (water pills)
  • Low-salt diet

Any urinary tract infection should be treated quickly with antibiotics.

Cysts that are painful, infected, bleeding, or causing a blockage may need to be drained. There are usually too many cysts to make it practical to remove each cyst.

Surgery to remove one or both kidneys may be needed. Treatments for end-stage kidney disease may include dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Support Groups

More information and support for people with polycystic kidney disease and their families can be found at a kidney disease support group.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The disease gets worse slowly. Eventually, it may lead to end-stage kidney failure. It is also associated with liver disease, including infection of liver cysts.

Treatment may relieve symptoms for many years.

People with PKD who don't have other diseases may be good candidates for a kidney transplant.

Possible Complications

Health problems that may result from PKD include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your health care provider if:

  • You have symptoms of PKD
  • You have a family history of PKD or related disorders and you are planning to have children (you may want to have genetic counseling)

Prevention

Currently, no treatment can prevent the cysts from forming or enlarging.

Gallery

Kidney and liver cysts - CT scan
This abdominal CT scan shows cysts in the liver and kidneys (polycystic disease). The liver is the large organ on the left side of the screen. The dark spots in the liver are cysts.
Kidney and liver cysts - CT scan
This abdominal CT scan shows cysts in the liver and kidneys (polycystic disease). The liver is the large organ on the left side of the screen. The dark spots in the liver are cysts.

References

Arnaout MA. Cystic kidney diseases. In: Goldman L, Cooney KA, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 27th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2024:chap 112.

Torres VE, Harris PC. Cystic diseases of the kidney. In: Yu ASL, Chertow GM, Luyckx VA, Marsden PA, Skorecki K, Taal MW, eds. Brenner and Rector's The Kidney. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 45.

Last reviewed August 28, 2023 by Walead Latif, MD, Nephrologist and Clinical Associate Professor, Rutgers Medical School, Newark, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team..

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