Polycystic: Not Your Garden Variety Kidney Disease

Most of the kidney disease people experience is caused by factors such as high blood pressure or as a complication of conditions like diabetes. But Polycystic Kidney Disease (or PKD) is a type of kidney disease that is of a completely different order. This is a condition that results from a person’s own genetic makeup.

The disorder, as its name suggests, causes multiple cysts to form mainly in the kidneys, although they can appear in other parts of the body too. These cysts are filled with fluid, and often enlarge the kidneys, sometimes until they weigh several pounds. The cysts take up space normally available for filtering purposes, which can ultimately lead to kidney failure. They also create higher blood pressure, which can go on to do other damage to the kidneys as well.

Symptoms of PKD, apart from high blood pressure, can include back pain, blood in the urine, an increase in abdomen size, and kidney stones. Cysts may also be found in other parts of the body such as the liver or pancreas, and they may even cause aneurysms in the brain.

Diagnosis is often not made until this condition has progressed quite far, but if a family member is known to have PKD, a person’s own chances of having it are increased. Blood and urine tests often don’t detect the problem early either, but ultrasound imaging, at least, can detect cysts greater than a half inch in size. Genetic tests can discern whether a person has the gene for PKD.

There is no prevention or cure available for PKD, but detection of the gene does give a person a chance to take some control. Regulating diet and blood pressure can help, and there are treatments for results of PKD such as pain, kidney stones, and headaches. As with all other forms of kidney disease, a healthy diet and blood pressure control are some of the most helpful steps to take.

(Further reading: Mayo Clinic – Polycystic Kidney Disease; MedicineNet.com – What is Polycystic Kidney Disease?)

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