Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD)

(Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Kidney Disease; ADPKD)

Reviewed/Revised Oct 2023
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What is polycystic kidney disease?

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is a disorder in which many cysts (fluid-filled sacs) form in both of your kidneys. Your kidneys get larger and don't work as well.

  • PKD runs in families

  • You may have pain in your side, blood in your urine, high blood pressure, or crampy pain caused by kidney stones

  • Symptoms usually start when people are in their 20s, although some people with PKD have no symptoms or mild symptoms that they don't notice

  • Doctors can treat some of the problems PKD causes, but they can’t stop cysts from forming

  • More than half of people with PKD eventually develop kidney failure and need dialysis or kidney transplantation at some point in their life

With PKD, you may also have cysts in other organs, such as your liver and pancreas.

Polycystic Kidney Disease

What are the complications of PKD?

Kidney cysts can

What are the symptoms of PKD?

You may not have any symptoms of PKD. If you do, you may notice:

  • Pain in your side or belly

If you have complications of PKD, you may notice:

  • Blood in your urine if a cyst breaks open

  • The need to urinate (pee) often or fever if the cysts become infected

  • Feel tired or sick to your stomach if you have developed chronic kidney disease

How do doctors tell if I have PKD?

Doctors suspect PKD if it runs in your family or if a test done for another reason shows that your kidneys are bigger than normal or have cysts. To find out if you have PKD, doctors do imaging tests of your kidneys, such as:

If these tests show you have PKD, doctors do blood tests at regular intervals to check your kidney function. Doctors sometimes recommend that you and certain close relatives get genetic testing for PKD. Genetic testing can help you understand if there’s a chance you'll pass the gene defect that causes PKD to your children.

How do doctors treat PKD?

Doctors will:

  • Treat any urinary tract infections, kidney stones, or high blood pressure

  • If cysts cause severe pain, doctors may drain the fluid from individual cysts

  • If your symptoms are very severe, doctors may do surgery to remove a kidney

  • If you have severe kidney failure, do dialysis or a kidney transplant

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