Our kidney disease specialists (nephrologists) lead a multidisciplinary team with the expertise to manage polycystic kidney disease (PKD) and its complications. Polycystic kidney disease is a genetic condition where fluid-filled cysts develop in both kidneys. As the cysts grow and multiply, the kidneys are damaged and lose function over time.

Polycystic kidney disease can lead to kidney failure and many people with PKD eventually need life-saving dialysis or a kidney transplant.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, polycystic kidney disease is the fourth-leading cause of kidney failure, and it affects men, women and children of all races. PKD can affect other organs, including the liver, pancreas and large bowel. High blood pressure and urinary tract infections are common complications of PKD.

Types of PKD

There are two forms of PKD – autosomal dominant PKD and autosomal recessive PKD.

  • Autosomal dominant PKD is the more common of the two inherited forms of PKD, representing nearly 90 percent of cases. Autosomal dominant PKD is slow progressing, and patients can live for years without knowing they have it. Symptoms typically surface when people are between the ages of 30 and 40, and at least one parent has the disease.
  • Autosomal recessive PKD begins early in life, sometimes developing in the womb. It is inherited by children whose parents both have an abnormal gene for the disease and who both pass the gene along to the child. The parents do not have to have the disease to pass the gene along.

Diagnosing and Treating Polycystic Kidney Disease

PKD tends to cause cysts in the liver and problems in other organs, including the heart and blood vessels in the brain. These complications are an indication to physicians that cysts in the kidneys are not harmless, "simple" cysts, but are polycystic kidney disease.

In these cases, nephrologists will review the patient’s family history to determine if inherited PKD is a current concern. Diagnostic imaging, such as ultrasounds of the kidney for the patient and parents, may be ordered to aid with the diagnosis. Fetal or prenatal ultrasounds can be used if autosomal recessive PKD is suspected.

Care for patients with PKD varies depending on their needs. Physicians may recommend pain medications and treatments for high blood pressure and urinary tract infections. Dialysis and kidney transplant may be options for patients with advanced PKD. In addition, our nephrologists participate in clinical trials for patients with PKD or can guide them to others currently available.

Learn more about polycystic kidney disease.

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