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Treating Polycystic Kidney Disease

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9 Symptoms of Polycystic Kidney Disease

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Jennifer Larson on January 7, 2022
  • Woman with back pain
    Learn about signs and symptoms of polycystic kidney disease.
    Polycystic kidney disease is an inherited disorder in which fluid-filled sacs, or cysts, develop in the kidneys. There are actually two different kinds: autosomal recessive polycystic kidney disease (ARPKD), a rare version that develops in fetuses and babies, and autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD), which is much more common and typically gets diagnosed when a person is in their 30s or 40s. 

    In the early stages of having autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease, you might not even experience any symptoms. But as the cysts get larger, you’re more likely to start noticing signs that something’s not quite right. Watch out for symptoms that might signal you have polycystic kidney disease and see your doctor as soon as possible, as treatment can prevent some of the worst complications.
  • Young man sitting with back pain
    1. Pain in the abdomen
    Pain is one of the most common complaints among people with polycystic kidney disease. You might feel it in your back or abdomen, or you might feel it in your sides. You may actually feel pain in your kidneys, too. The pain can be the result of enlarged cysts,  bleeding cysts, or bleeding into a cyst. If you’re on dialysis, the pain could be the result of a condition called diverticulitis, a type of inflammation in the intestines that affects many people on dialysis.
  • Close-up of woman's hand on stomach with toilet in background
    2. Blood in the urine
    It can be a little alarming to look into the toilet and see red- or pink-tinted urine. But blood in your urine, or hematuria, is a pretty common symptom of polycystic kidney disease; it can occur in as many as half of adults with autosomal dominant PKD. It can even be the first sign of the disease for many of them. When your kidneys are full of cysts, they can be extra vulnerable to injury or strain. Those cysts can rupture and cause bleeding.
  • blood-pressure
    3. High blood pressure
    High blood pressure is actually a complication of PKD, but it can be a sign that something’s wrong before a diagnosis, too. High blood pressure, or hypertension, tends to develop earlier in people with PKD than it does in the general population. And it affects as many as 60 to 70% of people with PKD, too. The severity tends to be correlated with the size and development of the cysts in the kidneys. Since high blood pressure is linked to cardiovascular disease, you’ll want to seek out treatment.
  • Close-up of a woman suffering from a headache
    4. Headaches
    Headaches are often a result of high blood pressure that some people develop when they have PKD. They could also be a sign of a type of aneurysm in the brain that can affect some people with PKD. Aneurysms are considered more of a complication of PKD than a symptom, but the headache is the symptom–the giveaway that something is wrong.
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  • woman-with-stomach-pain
    5. Swollen or enlarged abdomen
    Have you found yourself unbuckling your belt or leaving your pants unbuttoned, even though you haven’t been eating any more than usual? It could be a sign of PKD. As more and more cysts develop in your kidneys, your kidneys get larger. There’s only so much room in your abdomen to accommodate these swelling kidneys, so your abdomen may begin to swell outward, too.
  • Man with back pain
    6. Kidney stones
    If you develop sharp pain in your belly or lower back, or notice pain while urinating, your body may be letting you know that you have a kidney stone. PKD puts you at increased risk for developing kidney stones. The cysts in your kidneys can sometimes block the normal drainage of urine, which keeps urine in one place for a longer period of time. Crystals can form and develop into stones. These resulting kidney stones are painful and can cause blood in the urine, too.
  • Close-up of a bathroom door handle
    7. Urinary tract infections
    Anyone can develop a urinary tract infection, or UTI, but UTIs and kidney infections also happen to be a symptom or sign of PKD. Experts estimate that 30 to 50% of people with PKD can develop a UTI within their lifetime; women with autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease are more likely than men to develop UTIs. If it hurts to urinate, or you feel the urge to go much more often than usual, you may have developed a UTI. If you do have a UTI, your doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics.
  • exhausted-man-with-hands-in-face
    8. Fatigue
    Fatigue seems to be a symptom of everything, and yes, fatigue and weakness can be a sign of the early stages of autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease. So, if you’ve noticed a sense of malaise and fatigue that you can’t explain away, you might remain vigilant, especially if you have a family history of PKD or begin to develop any of the other symptoms.
  • woman on park bench with chest pain
    9. Fluttering in the chest
    A fluttering or even a pounding sensation can be a symptom of PKD. According to the National Kidney Foundation, about one in four people with polycystic kidney disease have a “floppy valve” in their hearts, which can result in a disconcerting fluttering sensation--and sometimes even chest pain. If you notice this or any unusual symptoms, see your doctor as soon as you can.
Polycystic Kidney Disease Symptoms | Understanding Kidney Disease

About The Author

Jennifer Larson has more than 15 years of professional writing experience with a specialization in healthcare. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and memberships in the Association of Health Care Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Education Writers Association.
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Last Review Date: 2022 Jan 7
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