Polycystic Kidney Disease

Polycystic kidney disease, or PKD, is a condition in which many cysts grow in the kidneys. When cysts grow too large or too numerous, they can reduce kidney function or lead to kidney failure. PKD is the fourth leading cause of kidney failure.

Overview and Symptoms

Symptoms of PKD may include:

  • Back or side pain
  • An increase in the size of the abdomen
  • Blood in the urine
  • Frequent bladder or kidney infections
  • High blood pressure
  • Headache
  • Fluttering or pounding sensation in the chest

Ultrasound is most often used to diagnose PKD.  A computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may detect smaller cysts that cannot be found by an ultrasound.

Genetic testing is used in some cases, especially when imaging tests are inconclusive or if you have a family history or PKD.


There is no cure for PKD. However, there are many strategies to control symptoms, including:

  • Treating high blood pressure
  • Quickly treating bladder or kidney infections
  • Drinking lots of fluids
  • Avoiding caffeinated beverages
  • Not smoking
  • Exercising
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Limiting your salt intake


The Division of Nephrology at BIDMC is dedicated to providing leading-edge diagnoses and treatment in overall kidney care.

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