Polycystic Kidney Disease: Facts and Treatment Options

Polycystic Kidney Disease: Facts and Treatment Options

Polycystic Kidney Disease: Facts and Treatment Options. Have you been diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease or know someone who has? This genetic disorder causes fluid-filled cysts to grow in your kidneys, and it’s essential to understand the facts about PKD and the latest treatment options available.

Unlike simple kidney cysts that often come with age and typically don’t cause problems, PKD cysts can get large and damage your kidneys over time. The good news is researchers are making progress in developing new therapies to help slow the progression of PKD and improve kidney function.

What Is Polycystic Kidney Disease?

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is a genetic disorder that causes fluid-filled cysts to grow in your kidneys. Unlike regular kidney cysts that often form as you age, PKD cysts can damage your kidneys by changing their shape and size.

PKD comes in two main types:

Autosomal dominant PKD (ADPKD) is the most common form. It means you inherited the gene mutation from one parent. ADPKD usually causes symptoms between ages 30 and 50, leading to kidney failure in about 50% of cases.

Autosomal recessive PKD (ARPKD) is rare and inherited from both parents. It often causes symptoms in infancy or childhood. About 30% of kids with ARPKD develop kidney failure by age 10.

With PKD, cysts multiply and enlarge over time, crowding out normal kidney tissue. It can cause:

  • Pain or discomfort in your back or sides
  • Blood in the urine (hematuria)
  • Kidney stones
  • Urinary tract infections
  • High blood pressure
  • Unfortunately, there’s no cure for PKD yet. Treatment focuses on symptoms and slowing the progression. Options include:
  • Blood pressure medication to control high blood pressure
  • Pain medication as needed
  • Antibiotics for infections
  • In severe cases, dialysis or kidney transplants may be recommended to replace lost kidney function.

The good news is many people with PKD live their whole lives with proper treatment and monitoring. The key is working closely with your doctor to develop an effective management plan.

The Two Types of PKD: Autosomal Dominant and Autosomal Recessive

There are two main types of PKD: autosomal dominant (ADPKD) and autosomal recessive (ARPKD). With ADPKD, the most common form, you inherit an abnormal gene from one parent. ARPKD is rarer and inherited from both parents.

  • ADPKD usually causes symptoms in adults, typically between 30 and 50. Fluid-filled cysts develop and grow in both kidneys, causing them to become enlarged over time. As a result, high blood pressure and kidney infections are common complications. Kidney function may remain normal for decades, but eventually, the damage from the cysts can lead to kidney failure in some cases.
  • ARPKD typically causes symptoms in newborns and children. Cysts mainly affect the small tubes in the kidneys that filter waste and extra fluid from the blood. As a result, it can lead to poor kidney function early on. About 1 in 20 thousand babies are born with ARPKD. Fortunately, with treatment, most children with ARPKD live into adulthood.

The type of PKD you have determines your treatment plan. For ADPKD, managing high blood pressure and infections is vital. ARPKD treatment focuses on improving kidney function and growth. In severe cases of either type, dialysis or a kidney transplant may eventually be needed.

The future is hopeful, though. New drugs are being developed to slow cyst growth and loss of kidney function. Genetic testing can also help determine your risk of passing PKD to your children and guide family planning. While PKD is a lifelong disease, many people can manage symptoms and live whole lives with the help of their doctors and by making healthy lifestyle changes.

Common Symptoms and Complications of PKD

Polycystic Kidney Disease: Facts and Treatment Options

Pain in the back or sides

As the cysts grow more significant in your kidneys, you may feel a dull ache or pain in your back or sides. The kidneys are found in the back of the abdomen, so pain in this area could indicate the cysts are putting pressure on surrounding tissues and organs. See your doctor right away if the pain is severe or intense.

Urinary tract infections

The cysts can block urine flow through the kidneys and ureters, increasing the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs). Symptoms of a UTI include:

  1. Burning sensation when urinating
  2. Cloudy or bloody urine
  3. Frequent or urgent need to urinate
  4. Fever or chills

Get medical care promptly if you experience these symptoms. UTIs require antibiotic treatment and, if left untreated, can lead to permanent kidney damage.

High Blood Pressure

As the cysts expand, they can damage the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys that help regulate blood pressure. As a result, it can cause high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Have your blood pressure checked regularly. Lifestyle changes and medications may be needed to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range.

Kidney Failure

Over time, the cysts can cause the kidneys to lose function and ultimately fail. As the kidneys fail, waste builds up in the blood and can make you feel sick. The treatment for kidney failure is dialysis or a kidney transplant. Kidney failure is a severe complication, but with treatment and medical management, most people with PKD can live for many years.

The symptoms and complications of PKD can often be managed well when detected early. Be sure to get regular checkups, follow your doctor’s recommendations, and report any changes in your health right away. You can maintain an active, productive life despite this chronic disease with proper treatment and care.

Diagnosing Polycystic Kidney Disease

Diagnosing Polycystic Kidney Disease

Diagnosing Polycystic Kidney Disease

If you have a family past of PKD or are experiencing symptoms like pain in your sides, blood in your urine, or frequent urination, your doctor may need to test you for PKD. The most common ways to diagnose PKD are:

  1. Imaging tests: Ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRIs can detect cysts in your kidneys. Ultrasounds use sound motion to create images of your kidneys, while CT scans use X-rays, and MRIs use magnetic fields. These noninvasive tests can determine if you have cysts, how many, and how large they are.
  2. Genetic testing: A blood test can detect mutations in the PKD1 and PKD2 genes that cause PKD. It is usually only done if imaging tests are inconclusive or genetic testing may impact treatment.
  3. Kidney function tests: Simple blood and urine tests can check how well your kidneys function. Impaired kidney function may indicate PKD or that the disease is progressing. Tests include BUN, creatinine, and GFR to measure waste levels in your blood and how well your kidneys filter waste.
  4. Biopsy: Rarely, a needle biopsy of your kidney may be done to confirm a PKD diagnosis. A biopsy can be risky, so it’s usually only performed if other tests are unclear.
  5. Early and accurate PKD diagnosis is critical to managing the disease and preventing complications. Talk to your doctor immediately if you notice any symptoms or have a family history of PKD. Catching the disease gives you the best chance to slow its progression and maintain your quality of life.

Treatment Options and Management of PKD


Several medications are available to help slow the progression of PKD and manage symptoms. Blood pressure medications like ACE inhibitors and ARBs can help control high blood pressure, a common complication of PKD, and may also slow cyst growth. Diuretics can help reduce fluid buildup. Pain medications may provide relief from pain caused by cysts or kidney stones.


When PKD significantly reduces kidney function, dialysis may be needed to filter waste and excess fluid from the blood. The two types of dialysis are hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. Hemodialysis uses a machine to filter the blood. Peritoneal dialysis uses a unique solution infused into the abdomen to draw waste from the blood into the peritoneal cavity, where it’s drained. Dialysis can provide temporary waste filtration until a kidney transplant is possible.

Polycystic Kidney Disease is a Kidney Transplant

A kidney transplant is the only treatment that can restore normal kidney function in PKD. Donor kidneys can come from living or deceased donors. Kidney transplants have success rates, but you must take immunosuppressant drugs for life to prevent organ rejection. The donor kidney will not develop PKD, so that a transplant can provide many years of normal kidney function. However, PKD may eventually recur in other parts of the urinary tract.

Polycystic Kidney Disease is a Lifestyle Changes

  • Making specific lifestyle changes can help you manage PKD and stay as healthy as possible:
  • Follow a low-sodium diet to control blood pressure and fluid buildup.
  • Drink plenty of water to dampen but avoid excess fluid intake.
  • Exercise regularly to stay active and mobile. Low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, or biking are good options.
  • Get enough rest and sleep to avoid fatigue and stress.
  • Don’t smoke or use any tobacco products. Smoking can accelerate kidney damage.
  • See your doctor regularly for checkups, kidney health, and blood pressure monitoring.

Early diagnosis, proper treatment, and management of PKD can help slow the progression of the disease and prevent complications. In addition, by following your doctor’s recommendations and making healthy lifestyle changes, you can maintain your quality of life even with PKD.


So there you have it, the critical facts about polycystic kidney disease and the available treatment options. While PKD is a severe genetic condition, the good news is that with ongoing monitoring and proper treatment, most people with PKD can live entire and active lives.

The key is catching any related health issues early and making the necessary lifestyle changes and adjustments to manage your symptoms best. Although there’s no cure yet, research continues to progress rapidly. Who knows, in a few years, new treatment options may provide even better outcomes. But, for now, work closely with your doctor, focus on living healthy, and try to stay positive. You’ve got this!

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Written by Vitals Blog

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