Polycystic Kidney Disease

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is the most common inherited cause of kidney failure in adults. It is genetically acquired and has two forms – the dominant and the recessive form. Most adults with PKD have the dominant form. Recessive form causes problems much earlier (during childhood) and life expectancy is usually not beyond the teenage years.



In the dominant PKD form, one parent has the disease and passes it to the child. The chance of passing the gene to the offspring is 50%. There are instances of spontaneous genetic mutations whereby the parents do not carry the flawed gene but the offspring is still afflicted with the condition. This genetic flaw causes the development of multiple cysts to evolve from the nephrons. Cysts are abnormal pouches containing fluid. Eventually the cysts replace normal kidney tissue and the person with this condition suffers kidney failure. Cysts also develop in the liver and pancreas.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Dull pain at the side of the abdomen (flank) and back
  • Blood in the urine
  • Frequent urine tract infection

  • High blood pressure / Hypertension (often before cysts appear)
  • Upper abdominal discomfort (liver and pancreatic cysts)


Treatment options vary depending on the existing problem:

  • Blood pressure – must be controlled and treated
  • Kidney failure – supportive therapy until end-stage is reached when dialysis or transplant is then required
  • Urine tract infection – treatment with antibiotics
  • Pain – analgesics (pain-killers) are used. If intractable, surgery to shrink or resect the cysts may be necessary
  •  Headache – caution is necessary because this condition is associated with aneurysm of blood vessels in the brain (abnormally dilated blood vessels) that can rupture and cause bleeding in the brain



As the condition is associated with abnormal genetic material, there is no known cure or preventive strategy at present. This commonly occurring condition is quite different from a condition known as simple kidney cysts. These (simple cysts) can be single or multiple (may be mistaken for PKD). Simple cysts rarely cause symptoms and do not harm the kidneys. It may however cause pain or elevated blood pressure.