Polycystic kidney disease, or PKD, impacts more than a half million Americans and remains the fourth leading cause of kidney failure. This genetic condition is characterized by cysts, or small growths filled with fluid, developing in the kidneys and inhibiting kidney function, causing kidneys to fail.

Types of PKD

There are two inherited forms of PKD and one non-inherited form.

Autosomal Dominant PKD

The most common form of PKD, known as autosomal dominant PKD, is usually passed down to children by one parent. In fact, if one parent has the disease, they have a 50/50 chance of passing the disease to their children. Autosomal dominant PKD can also arise in individuals with no family history of the condition; however, this is less common with only 10% of cases occurring in this manner.

Autosomal dominant PKD can be diagnosed in childhood, but is most commonly discovered in adults aged 30-40, giving it the nickname adult polycystic kidney disease. It can also occur with other conditions including tuberous sclerosis, liver disease, or eye problems.

Autosomal Recessive PKD

The second type of inherited PKD, called autosomal recessive PKD, is more rare and thought to occur as a result of a unique genetic flaw. If both parents carry this recessive abnormal gene, they can pass it to their child.

Unlike autosomal dominant PKD, the recessive form can be detected prenatally or earlier in life as symptoms usually arise within a child’s first year. This form of PKD can also impact the liver, spleen, and pancreas, resulting in low blood cell counts, varicose veins, and hemorrhoids.

Acquired Cystic Kidney Disease

The third and only non-inherited form of PKD is known as acquired cystic kidney disease. This form usually develops following long-term kidney problems, dialysis, or kidney failure. As such it generally impacts older individuals who suffer from cysts in organs besides the kidneys.

Symptoms of PKD

Symptoms may differ depending on the type and time of onset of PKD. However, some of the most common symptoms include high blood pressure, urinary tract infections (UTIs) or frequent urination, abdominal pain, kidney stones, and skin that seems pale or bruises easily.

A provider may diagnose PKD in a parent or child following an ultrasound or other imaging technique.

Treatment of PKD

Once a PKD diagnosos is made, a provider will create a personalized approach to treating the condition. Common treatment solutions include medications to alleviate pain, reduce blood pressure, and limit UTIs. Dialysis or kidney transplants may also be considered in severe cases.

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