Polycystic Kidney Disease: Symptoms, Causes And Treatments

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is a genetic disorder characterized by the growth of numerous cysts in the kidneys. The cysts are noncancerous round sacs containing fluid, and their growth can lead to an increase in the size of the kidneys, disrupting their normal function. The disease exists in two forms, autosomal dominant and autosomal recessive, each with its unique characteristics, symptoms, and complications.

Understanding Polycystic Kidney Disease

PKD is a hereditary disorder, which means it is passed from parents to children through genes. It is characterized by the development of countless cysts in the kidneys, which can impair kidney function, leading to kidney failure.

Cysts are fluid-filled sacs that can grow very large, sometimes even larger than the kidney itself. They are filled with a fluid that typically contains substances such as urea, sodium, chlorine, potassium, phosphates, creatinine, and glucose. These cysts can invade the areas occupied by the glomerulus and the proximal and distal tubules, causing the kidneys to enlarge and function poorly.

The disease is classified into two forms based on the gene involved:

  1. Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD): This form is present from birth but usually doesn't cause symptoms until adulthood, typically around the age of 30-40.
  2. Autosomal recessive polycystic kidney disease (ARPKD): This form manifests itself in the first few months of life and can be fatal.

Causes and Pathogenesis

PKD is caused by mutations in specific genes. In the case of ADPKD, two different genes, PKD 1 and PKD 2, can cause the disease. Both genes are involved in the same pathology and result in similar symptoms. For ARPKD, the disease is caused by a mutation in the PKHD 1 gene.

These genes encode for proteins called polycystins, which form a channel for the passage of calcium ions across cell membranes. Calcium ions play a crucial role in cellular signaling. When these proteins are mutated, the channel does not function properly, disrupting the calcium-induced signal, ultimately leading to the formation of cysts.

Symptoms and Complications

The symptoms of PKD can vary depending on the form of the disease. In ADPKD, symptoms typically do not appear until adulthood, while in ARPKD, symptoms manifest shortly after birth.

Common symptoms include abdominal pain, lower back pain, blood in the urine (hematuria), proteins in the urine (proteinuria), kidney pain, and kidney stones. Hypertension and kidney infections can also occur in the later stages of the disease.

If left untreated, PKD can lead to severe complications, including chronic kidney failure, chronic hypertension, cysts in other parts of the body, valvular diseases, cerebral aneurysm, chronic kidney pain, diverticular disease of the colon, and complications during pregnancy.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The diagnosis of PKD often involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests. These tests can include kidney ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, urinalysis, and blood tests.

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for PKD. However, treatments are available to manage symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. These treatments can include medication to control blood pressure, lifestyle changes to slow kidney damage, pain management, and in severe cases, dialysis or kidney transplantation.


While there is no surefire way to prevent PKD, early detection and management of the disease can significantly improve a patient's prognosis. Regular check-ups, including ultrasound examinations, blood pressure measurements, blood tests, and kidney function tests, are recommended for individuals with a family history of PKD.

In addition, it is crucial to avoid contact sports that could cause kidney injury, and it's important to consult with a healthcare provider before taking any medication that could potentially harm the kidneys.

In brief, PKD is a serious genetic disorder that can lead to life-threatening complications if left untreated. However, with early detection and appropriate management, individuals with PKD can lead fulfilling lives.

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The Wellyme Team

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