American Kidney Fund
Email Sign Up | Sign In | HelpLine | AKF Store

Blog | En Español | Partners | Newsroom | About Us | Contact Us
 text size Text Size OneText Size TwoText Size Three

Download Health Brochures and Fact Sheets

Health questions? Call AKF toll-free. Se habla Español. Details»

Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) 

Over 600,000 Americans have polycystic kidney disease (PKD).  This genetic disease causes many cysts to grow in the kidneys.  Over time, these cysts damage the kidneys and can lead to kidney failure.

How is PKD different from simple kidney cysts?

It is common for our kidneys to develop small, fluid-filled cysts as we age.  These are called simple kidney cysts and are almost always benign (not harmful).  In contrast, PKD is a genetic disease that causes many cysts to form in the kidneys.  These cysts grow out of control and can overrun the kidneys.  In time, the PKD cysts damage the kidneys and can lead to kidney failure.

Are there different kinds of PKD?

There are three types of PKD. 

The most common type of PKD is called Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Kidney Disease (ADPKD), and it is caused by a dominant gene.  If a person has this gene, he or she has a 50-50 chance of passing it on to a child.  Signs of ADPKD often don’t appear until adulthood, which is why this type of PKD is sometimes called “Adult PKD.”

A much less common type of PKD is called Autosomal Recessive Polycystic Kidney Disease (ARPKD).  Because ARPKD is caused by a recessive gene, a child has only a one-in-four chance of inheriting the disease, even if both parents carry the trait.  ARPKD tends to appear very early in life, sometimes even before birth. 

A third type of PKD is called Acquired Cystic Kidney Disease (ACKD) and is caused by kidney damage or scarring rather than genetics.  Most dialysis patients will develop ACKD after several years of treatment.  Other diseases that slowly damage the kidneys can also lead to ACKD.

Who is at risk for PKD?

PKD is found equally in men and women of all races.  Because PKD is a genetic disease, a person is more at risk if one of his or her parents has the disease.

What are the symptoms of PKD?

Not everyone with PKD has symptoms.  If you do have symptoms of PKD, they might include:

If you are having symptoms of PKD or think that you may be at risk for the disease, talk to your doctor.  Your doctor may ask about your family history to determine your level of risk for PKD.  Your doctor may also use imaging tests like ultrasound, MRI or CT to check your kidneys for cysts. 

Genetic tests are available if ADPKD is suspected, but they may be of little use.  There is no cure for PKD, and a genetic test cannot tell when the disease will appear or how severe it will be.

What can I do if I have PKD?

There is no cure for PKD yet, but you can take steps to help slow damage to your kidneys.

  • Keep a healthy blood pressure
  • Eat a diet low in salt
  • Control diabetes if you have it
  • Avoid tobacco
  • Work with a nephrologist (kidney specialist) to manage your PKD

Get more healthy living tips here 

Revised 12/10.

GMS Login
Donate Now
Stay Connected

Check out our blog!

Putting Your Contributions to Work

GuideStar Gold Participation    CharityWatch Top-Rated CharityCharity Navigator Better Business Bureau LogoNational Health Council Standards of Excellence
Consumers Digest Top Charity
Consumers Digest
4-Star Charity (14th consecutive year)
Charity Navigator

Stay Connected With the American Kidney Fund:

American Kidney Fund on Facebook   American Kidney Fund on Twitter   American Kidney Fund on YouTube   American Kidney Fund on YouTube   American Kidney Fund on Instagram