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Polycystic kidney disease
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Polycystic kidney disease

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Polycystic kidney disease is a disorder in which many clusters of cysts develop primarily within your kidneys. Cysts are noncancerous (benign), round sacs that contain water-like fluid. They vary in size from tiny sacs to sacs large enough to hold several quarts of fluid.

Having a benign kidney cyst is common. A benign, simple kidney cyst doesn't require treatment. And having one or more kidney cysts doesn't mean you have polycystic kidney disease.


High blood pressure is a common complication of ADPKD. As many as 70 percent of people with ADPKD develop high blood pressure. Untreated, high blood pressure can cause further damage to your kidneys and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

A serious complication of polycystic kidney disease is progressive loss of kidney function. About 50 percent of people with the disease will have kidney failure by age 60, and about 60 percent will have kidney failure by age 70.

Polycystic kidney disease causes your kidneys to gradually lose their ability to eliminate wastes from your blood and maintain your body's balance of fluids and chemicals. As the cysts enlarge, they produce pressure and promote scarring in the normal, unaffected areas of your kidneys. These effects promote high blood pressure and interfere with the ability of your kidneys to keep wastes from building to toxic levels, a condition called uremia.

Kidney failure and subsequent uremia can cause itching, nausea and loss of appetite. Left untreated, this toxic buildup of waste products and fluid can lead to congestion of your lungs, coma or even death.

The disease may also result in your kidneys producing less erythropoietin — a growth factor for red blood cells. Less erythropoietin results in decreased bone marrow production of red blood cells. Fewer red blood cells (anemia) mean you have less iron-rich hemoglobin to carry oxygen from your lungs through your bloodstream to the rest of your body.

As the disease worsens, end-stage kidney (renal) failure may result. When end-stage renal failure occurs, you'll need ongoing kidney dialysis or a transplant to prolong your life.

Most women — up to 80 percent — with polycystic kidney disease can have an uneventful pregnancy. Others may develop a life-threatening disorder called pre-eclampsia. Those most at risk are women who have high blood pressure before they become pregnant.

Other complications of ADPKD may include:

  • Growth of cysts in your liver. The likelihood of developing liver cysts for someone with ADPKD increases with age. About two-thirds of people with ADPKD will develop liver cysts at some point in their lifetime. While both men and women develop cysts, women often develop larger cysts and get them at an earlier age. Cyst growth appears to be aided by female hormones. They're more frequent in women who've been pregnant.

  • Development of an aneurysm in your brain. Localized enlargement of an artery in your brain can cause a hemorrhage if it ruptures. Aneurysms tend to run in families and are present in between 5 percent and 10 percent of people with ADPKD.

  • Heart valve abnormalities.

  • Hernias, and pouches or sacs in the wall of the colon (diverticulosis).


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