Kidney Cysts


Kidney cysts are fluid-filled sacs that develop on or in your kidneys. The cysts are noncancerous and may or may not cause symptoms or other health problems, depending on the type of cysts you have.

There are two types of kidney cysts:

  • Simple kidney cysts– simple kidney cysts are the most common. These types of cysts usually don’t cause symptoms, unless they grow large, and then you might feel some abdominal or back pain or develop a fever. While simple kidney cysts are relatively harmless, they can sometimes affect kidney function.
  • Polycystic (PKD) is a genetic disease. This means that it is caused by a problem with your genes. PKD causes cysts to grow inside the kidneys.   The cysts are sacs of fluid and people with PKD, may have thousands of cysts in their kidneys at once, making the kidneys much larger than they should be.

A kidney that is filled with cysts can weigh up to 30 pounds. PKD causes chronic kidney disease (CKD) , which can lead to kidney failure, or end-stage renal disease (ESRD). PKD causes about 2 percent (2 out of every 100) of the cases of kidney failure in the United States each year.


About Kidney Cysts

There are two types of PKD: autosomal dominant PKD and autosomal recessive PKD.

Autosomal dominant PKD causes cysts only in the kidneys. It is often called “adult PKD,” because people with this type of PKD might not notice any symptoms until they are between 30 and 50 years old.

Autosomal dominant PKD (ADPKD) is the most common type of PKD. About 9 out of every 10 people with PKD have the autosomal dominant form. It is also the most common inherited kidney disease.

Autosomal recessive PKD is often called infantile PKD because babies can show signs of the disease in their first few months of life, or even before they are born.

Autosomal recessive PKD (ARPKD) is a much less common form of PKD.  ARPKD causes cysts to form in both the kidneys and the liver. Symptoms of the disease can begin even before birth and can cause life-threatening problems in infants.

Learn more at Polycystic Kidney Foundation-

PKD is almost always inherited from a parent or from both parents. People of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities and nationalities can have PKD. Men and women get PKD equally as often. If you have a blood relative with PKD, you are more likely to have PKD or carry the gene that causes it. If you carry the gene that causes PKD but you do not have the disease, you are called a carrier. This is possible with autosomal recessive PKD.

ADPKD is caused by a problem with a specific gene. It is almost always inherited from a parent who also has ADPKD. To inherit the disease, a child needs to have just one parent with ADPKD. A child who has one parent with ADPKD has a 50/50 chance of inheriting the disease. If both parents have ADPKD, their child will be born with the disease.

The genetic problem that causes ADPKD can sometimes happen on its own, meaning that a child may be born with ADPKD, even though neither parent has it. This happens in only 1 out of every 10 cases of ADPKD.

There is no way to prevent either form of PKD. If you have PKD, you may be able to keep your kidneys working longer by following a healthy lifestyle. Some tips for living healthy include:

  • Keep a healthy blood pressure.
  • Keep a healthy blood sugar level.
  • Keep a healthy weight.
  • Follow a low-salt, low-fat diet.
  • Limit alcohol.
  • Do not smoke, use any tobacco product or vap.
  • Exercise most days of the week.
  • Take all prescription medicines as your doctor tells you to.
  • Do not take more than the recommended dose of over-the-counter medicines.

Children may have symptoms of ADPKD, but most people with the disease do not notice symptoms until they are between 30 and 50 years old.

Symptoms might include:

  • Back and side pain
  • Headaches
  • Blood in your urine/hematuria

If you have any of these symptoms, contact your health care provider. He or she may want to test for kidney problems.

Imaging tests, such as ultrasound, CT scans and MRI scans. The imaging tests may be done to look for visible signs of cysts in your kidneys. Genetic tests can tell your doctor exactly what kind of PKD you have or if you are likely to develop the disease in the future.

Complications of ADPKD might include:

  • Kidney failure/ESRD
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Kidney stones
  • Liver cysts
  • Cysts in your pancreas
  • Heart valve problems
  • Colon problems
  • Brain aneurysms
  • Pregnancy problem, called preeclampsia (in pregnant women who have ADPKD and high blood pressure)

There is no cure for ADPKD, but a new treatment is available that has been show to slow the progression of ADPKD to kidney failure. Your nephrologist at San Antonio Kidney will evaluate you to see if you are a candidate for some of the new treatment options.

The only way to know if you are a carrier of the gene that causes ARPKD is to have genetic testing. Testing can be done using a sample of your blood or saliva. The test looks for a specific gene called PKHD1.

Acquired cystic kidney disease (ACKD) is not a type of PKD. While ACKD does cause cysts to form inside the kidneys like PKD does, people with PKD are born with it and people with ACKD are not. Instead, ACKD is caused by chronic kidney disease (CKD) or kidney failure/ESRD.

ACKD is more common in people who have had kidney disease for a long time. ACKD happens most often in people who are on dialysis, but the cysts are not caused by dialysis treatments.

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