Polycystic Kidney Disease

Posted by Alerna Kidney Health on

One of the sad realities of kidney health is polycystic kidney disease, also commonly referred to as PKD. What many people who have heard of the disease might not know is that it can range in severity and manifest anywhere from right after birth to well after age 60. In fact, some people can have PKD for years without even realizing it, maybe even dying from another condition before it was ever detected.

With PKD, cysts develop in clusters inside the kidneys. While the cysts aren't cancerous, they can grow in size over time, causing serious problems. The cysts can also turn up in the liver and other areas of the body.

The most common problem tied to PKD is high blood pressure. If it isn't treated through medications, exercise and diet modification, a person runs the risk of serious kidney damage, plus stroke or heart disease. In many cases, the kidneys will also fail, which makes dialysis or a kidney transfer necessary. There are several other serious risks, which is why seeking help from a doctor is absolutely essential.

Most cases of PKD are the result of abnormal genes a person has inherited from one or both parents. The most common genetic form is called autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease or ADPKD. Some might be familiar with this disorder by the term adult polycystic kidney disorder, which is no longer used since there have been cases of children developing it. Often symptoms of ADPKD crop up when people are in their 30s.

Although less common, autosomal recessive polycystic kidney disorder (ARPKD) is still a real risk. Usually symptoms first manifest not too long after a child is born, although it's possible they won't appear until the teen years.

For a child to inherit ADPKD, only one parent needs to have PKD. The risk of a child inheriting the disease is 50 percent. When it comes to ARPKD, both the mother and father must pass on abnormal genes to the child, with a 25 percent chance of children inheriting it. Anyone who has PKD and is concerned about passing it on can speak with a genetic counselor before planning to have a family.

Just because there's no family history of PKD doesn't mean a person can't develop the disease. While incredibly rare, spontaneous gene mutation is possible. Even more likely is that someone down the family line had PKD but was never properly diagnosed.

Like other diseases, it's critical to know the symptoms of PKD so you can catch it early. Also like so many other diseases, the symptoms don't mean you necessarily have PKD, which is why you should see a doctor if you're concerned.

The symptoms for PKD are:
- Repeated urinary tract or kidney infections
- Kidney stones
- Kidney failure
- Persistent pain in the side or back
- Need to urinate frequently
- Persistent headache
- Blood in the urine
- Unexplained increase in size of the abdomen

When you see a doctor about the possibility of PKD, you may undergo a variety of tests. Commonly, an ultrasound, CT scan or MRI scan will be used to get a clear picture of your kidneys. The doctor can then discuss a treatment plan.

Our informational articles are for your information only and are not intended as medical advice. Because everyone is different, we recommend you work with your medical professional to determine what’s best for you.

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