What is Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD)?

Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) is a genetic disorder marked by the slow growth of fluid-filled cysts within the kidneys. The cysts multiply and grow, causing the kidneys to become enlarged. Although the cysts are non-cancerous, they can cause irreversible kidney damage and may even lead to chronic kidney disease (CKD).

About 600,000 people in the United States have PKD (1). The disease affects men and women equally. While there’s no known cure for PKD, there are lifestyle changes that you can make to aid in the dietary management of PKD.

Polycystic Kidney Disease Causes: 

PKD is caused by a genetic mutation passed down through family members. There are two types of PKD: Autosomal Dominant (ADPKD) and Autosomal Recessive (ARPKD). 


  • ADPKD is the most common form of PKD, affecting 1 in every 400 to 1,000 people (2). “Autosomal dominant” means a child can inherit the PKD gene from just one parent. If a parent has ADPKD there is a 50% chance their child will have the disease (3). 

  • ARPKD is much less prevalent, affecting 1 in every 20,000 people (2). “Autosomal recessive” means that both parents must have the disease to pass it on to their child. If both parents have the abnormal gene, there is a 25% chance their child will have it (4).


Polycystic Kidney Disease Symptoms: 

It’s not uncommon for PKD to go years or even decades undetected. If you experience symptoms, they usually show up between 30 and 40 years of age (5). If PKD runs in your family, meet with a doctor to discuss screening for the disease. 


Symptoms can include:

  • Back and side pain 

  • Headaches

  • Blood in your urine 

  • High blood pressure 

  • Kidney Stones

  • Enlarged Kidneys


Polycystic Kidney Disease Diagnosis:

You may be referred to a nephrologist if you are showing signs and symptoms of PKD. A nephrologist uses imaging tests to detect cysts in the kidneys. An ultrasound is the most common test used to diagnose PKD. Sometimes, a CT (computed tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) can reveal smaller cysts that aren’t captured on an ultrasound.


Various complications may result from having PKD. Adults with PKD are at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, kidney failure, kidney stones, liver and pancreatic cysts, brain aneurysms, and chronic pain. 


Complications can also occur in babies born with PKD. They may have breathing problems, high blood pressure, and kidney failure.



While PKD is not reversible, there are several ways to manage symptoms and changes you can make to aid in the dietary management for people with PKD. 


To manage symptoms of PKD:


  • Drink lots of water

  • Reduce your salt intake

  • Engage in regular physical activity

  • Manage your stress levels

  • Take medications as prescribed by your doctor

  • Limit your caffeine intake

  • Quit smoking 


To learn about the top 8 dietary and lifestyle changes for PKD, click here

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