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:


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.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrienne Carmack, MD
  • Review Date: 05/2018 -
  • Update Date: 06/11/2018 -