Polycystic Kidney Disease



Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is a disease that causes many cysts (fluid-filled sacs) to form in the kidneys. The kidneys grow in size because the cysts grow inside them. The cysts vary in size and number.

Anatomy of the Kidney
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A certain inherited gene causes PKD. If one parent carries the gene, then a child has a 50% chance of developing it. A person with the gene will have some form of PKD during their lifetime.

There is also a rare form of PKD, called autosomal recessive polycystic kidney disease. It affects newborns, infants, and children. This form can cause death in the first month of life.

Risk Factors

PKD affects both men and women equally. Your chances of having it are highest if you have a parent with PKD. In some cases, the gene is mutated rather than inherited.



During the early stages of PKD, there are often no symptoms. Most symptoms appear in middle age. When they appear, symptoms may cause:

  • Pain in the back or side
  • Blood in the urine
  • Belly pain
  • Frequent urination


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. Your answers and a physical exam may point to PKD. You may also have:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Imaging tests:
    • Renal ultrasound
    • MRI scan
    • CT scan



Care focuses on treating symptoms and preventing complications. Care may involve:

  • Medicines to control:
    • High blood pressure
    • Pain
  • Antibiotics to treat certain infections
  • Using a diet that lowers protein or salt intake
  • Surgery to:
    • Drain or remove cysts to ease pain, bleeding, or a blockage
    • Remove one or both kidneys— nephrectomy
  • Dialysis —takes over the work of the kidneys
  • Kidney transplant


There is no way to prevent PKD. If it runs in your family, talk to your doctor about genetic testing.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

a (PKD; Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Kidney Disease; ADPKD; Adult Polycystic Disease; Polycystic Kidney Disease Type 2)


National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases https//www.niddk.nih.gov 

PKD Foundation https://pkdcure.org 


Health Canada https://www.canada.ca 

The Kidney Foundation of Canada https://www.kidney.ca 


Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116105/Autosomal-dominant-polycystic-kidney-disease-ADPKD  . Updated June 10, 2016. Accessed June 11, 2018.

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD). Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/polycystic-kidney-disease.html. Updated April 2014. Accessed June 11, 2018.

Kidney (renal dysplasia) and cystic disease. Urology Care Foundation website. Available at: http://www.urologyhealth.org/urologic-conditions/kidney-(renal)-dysplasia-and-cystic-disease?article=19. Accessed June 11, 2018.

Srivastava A. Patel N. Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease. Am Fam Physician 2014;90(5):303-307.

What is PKD? PKD Foundation website. Available at: https://pkdcure.org/what-is-pkd. Accessed June 11, 2018.