HealthTree Logo
search more_vert
What is Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD)?
Posted: Oct 21, 2022
What is Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD)? image

Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) is an inherited disease that causes cysts to develop in your kidneys. These cysts cause your kidneys to enlarge and not function properly. Cysts are noncancerous but are filled with fluid. They vary in size and can grow very large. This can damage your kidneys. PKD can also cause cysts to develop in your liver as well as other organs in your body. This disease can cause complications such as high blood pressure or kidney failure.

Symptoms can include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Back or side pain
  • Blood in your urine
  • A feeling of fullness in your abdomen
  • Increased size of your abdomen (due to large cysts in the kidneys)
  • Headaches
  • Kidney stones
  • Kidney failure
  • Urinary tract or kidney infections

People with PKD can often go years without knowing they have the disease. If you develop any symptoms, contact your doctor for an evaluation. If you have a first-degree relative with PKD, you should also be evaluated by your doctor.

“Abnormal genes cause polycystic kidney disease, which means that in most cases, the disease runs in families. Sometimes, a genetic mutation occurs on its own (spontaneous), so that neither parent has a copy of the mutated gene.” There are two main types of PKD that are caused by different genetic flaws.

Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Kidney Disease (ADPKD)

  • Symptoms develop between the ages of 30 and 40.
  • But, children can also develop this disorder.
  • Only one parent needs to have the disease to pass along to a child.
  • This equates to a 50% chance of inheriting this disease.
  • This form accounts for most of the cases of PKD.

Autosomal Recessive Polycystic Kidney Disease (ARPKD)

  • This version of PKD is far less common.
  • Symptoms appear shortly after birth.
  • Symptoms can also appear in later childhood or adolescence.
  • Both parents must carry abnormal genes to pass ARPKD onto their children.
  • Each child has a 25% chance of inheriting this disease.

There are many complications that can develop from PKD:

  • High blood pressure- if left untreated, it can further damage the kidneys as well as heart complications or stroke.
  • Kidney failure- progressive loss of kidney function is the most common complication of PKD. Nearly half of those with this condition have kidney failure by the age of 60. Dialysis or transplant may be necessary.
  • Chronic pain- this can be located in your side or back due to urinary tract or kidney infections.
  • Growth of cysts in the liver- developing cysts increases with age. Women often develop larger cysts.
  • An aneurysm in the brain- people with PKD have a higher risk of aneurysms. Know the signs and when to contact your doctor.
  • Heart valve abnormalities- 1 in 4 adults with PKD develop mitral valve prolapse. The heart valve no longer closes properly and can leak backwards.
  • Colon problems- Weakness and sacs can develop in the wall of the colon. This is called diverticulosis.

If you have PKD, keeping your kidneys as healthy as possible is your most important focus. This will help prevent many of the complications of this disease. Take your prescribed blood pressure medications, eat a low salt diet, exercise regularly to maintain a healthy weight. Limit alcohol use and quit smoking. 

The author Lisa Foster

about the author
Lisa Foster

Lisa Foster is a mom of 3 daughters, a puzzle lover, writer and HealthTree advocate. She believes in the mission of the foundation and the team that builds it forward. She calls Houston, Texas home. 

Get the latest thought leadership on Kidney Disease delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to the weekly "HealthTree Community for Kidney Disease Newsletter" for Kidney Disease news, life with Kidney Disease stories, Kidney Disease clinical trials, Kidney Disease 101 articles and events with Kidney Disease experts.