Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Kidney Disease Symptoms: Early Detection and Management

Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) is a genetic disorder characterized by the growth of numerous cysts in the kidneys. These cysts, filled with fluid, can lead to an increase in the overall size of the kidneys, disrupting their function over time. Symptoms may vary widely among individuals and typically develop between the ages of 30 and 40, although they can begin earlier, even in childhood.

Common symptoms of ADPKD include pain in the back and sides, between the ribs and hips, as well as headaches. High blood pressure is often an early sign and a common complication, which can exacerbate kidney damage if not managed properly. Individuals may also experience blood in the urine, kidney stones, and urinary tract infections.

As ADPKD progresses, the cysts may harm kidney function leading to chronic kidney disease. Patients may face complications like cysts in the liver and problems in other organs, including the heart and blood vessels in the brain. As there is currently no cure for ADPKD, treatment focuses on managing symptoms and slowing down the progression of the disease.


Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) presents a range of symptoms that can vary significantly from person to person. This section outlines the symptoms observed in adults, children, and when one should consult a general practitioner.

Common Symptoms

Individuals with autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease commonly experience:

  • Pain or tenderness in the back or sides
  • Blood in the urine (hematuria)
  • Frequent urination or the need to urinate more often, especially at night
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Kidney stones
  • Kidney failure in later stages
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

Symptoms In Children

While less common, children may present signs that include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Hematuria
  • Growth may be affected

When To See A GP

One should consult a general practitioner if they experience:

  • Persistent pain in the back or sides
  • Blood in the urine
  • Any other persistent or concerning symptoms


Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Kidney Disease Symptoms: Early Detection And Management - 1

Accurate diagnosis of autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) is essential for proper management and treatment. Healthcare professionals employ various diagnostic approaches to confirm the presence of ADPKD.

Genetic Testing

Genetic testing is utilized to detect mutations in the PKD1 or PKD2 genes, which are responsible for ADPKD. This method is particularly valuable when a clear family history exists or when other diagnostic tests are inconclusive.

  • PKD1 gene mutations account for approximately 85% of cases.
  • PKD2 gene mutations are associated with less severe symptoms and later onset.

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests offer a non-invasive method to visualize kidney structure and identify the presence of multiple kidney cysts, a hallmark of ADPKD.

  • Ultrasound: The most commonly used initial imaging test; can detect cysts in kidneys and other organs.
  • CT Scan: Provides detailed cross-sectional images and can detect smaller cysts that ultrasound may miss.
  • MRI: Assesses cyst size and volume more accurately and is useful for monitoring disease progression.

Blood Tests

Blood tests in ADPKD are employed to assess kidney function by measuring waste products, such as blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine, which may be elevated in individuals with kidney disease.

  • Creatinine: Elevated levels may indicate decreased kidney function.
  • BUN: Also used to evaluate kidney function; may increase with kidney impairment.

Urine Tests

Urine tests aid in checking for signs of kidney damage and assess urinary tract infections, which are common in individuals with ADPKD.

  • Urinalysis: Can reveal blood or protein in urine, suggesting kidney damage.
  • 24-Hour Urine Collection: Measures kidney excretory capacity and helps in evaluating the risk of kidney stones.


Effective management of autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) involves a multifaceted approach, addressing both symptoms and disease progression through various treatments.


Medications can play a critical role in controlling hypertension and pain associated with ADPKD.

  • Blood Pressure Control:
    • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) are often prescribed to manage high blood pressure.
    • Frequent monitoring and dose adjustments may be necessary to maintain blood pressure goals.
  • Pain Management:
    • Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, may alleviate mild pain.
    • For severe or chronic pain, doctors may prescribe stronger analgesics or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), albeit with caution due to potential kidney damage.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle modifications can significantly impact the course of ADPKD and are advised in conjunction with medical treatments.

  • Diet:
    • Reducing salt intake to lower blood pressure.
    • Limiting protein consumption to ease kidney workload.
  • Exercise:
    • Regular physical activity, tailored to suit individual capacity and health status, helps in blood pressure management and overall well-being.
  • Hydration:
    • Adequate water intake is important in reducing the risk of stone formation.

Surgeries And Procedures

In advanced cases or when complications arise, surgeries and procedures may be necessary.

  • Cyst Drainage:
    • Large cysts causing pain, hypertension, or interference with kidney function can often be drained percutaneously under imaging guidance.
  • Nephrectomy:
    • If a kidney is severely enlarged or functioning poorly, it might be removed to alleviate symptoms or to prepare for kidney transplantation.
  • Kidney Transplantation:
    • In cases of kidney failure, a transplant may be considered the best treatment option. Preemptive transplantation may be an option before dialysis is required.


Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) is primarily caused by genetic mutations. These mutations are often inherited from an affected parent but can sometimes occur spontaneously.

  • Genetic Mutations: Two genes, PKD1 and PKD2, are responsible for most cases of ADPKD.
    • PKD1 mutations account for about 85% of cases and generally result in more severe disease.
    • PKD2 mutations make up a smaller percentage of cases and tend to result in milder symptoms.
  • Inheritance Pattern:
    • ADPKD follows an autosomal dominant pattern, meaning a single copy of the altered gene in each cell is sufficient to cause the disorder.
    • An affected person usually has one affected parent.
  • De Novo Mutations: Approximately 10% of ADPKD cases arise from new mutations and occur in people with no family history of the disease.
Genetic FactorDescription
PKD1 Gene MutationLeads to more severe ADPKD
PKD2 Gene MutationAssociated with milder symptoms
Autosomal DominantOne mutated gene is enough to cause ADPKD
De Novo MutationsNew mutations in individuals without history

Researchers are investigating additional factors that may influence ADPKD, including modifier genes, environmental factors, and lifestyle choices, which might affect the severity of the disease. However, the precise role of these non-genetic factors is less clearly understood and requires further study.


Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Kidney Disease (ADPKD) may lead to several complications over time. These complications are a direct result of the progressive nature of the disease and its impact on kidney function and other organs.

High blood pressure: Patients often experience elevated blood pressure, which can contribute to further kidney damage and other cardiovascular problems.

  • Kidney failure: Progressive kidney damage can culminate in end-stage renal disease (ESRD), necessitating dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Chronic pain: Enlarging cysts and kidney stones can cause persistent pain in the abdomen, back, or sides.

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs): Cysts can obstruct urinary pathways, increasing the risk of infections.

Blood in the urine (hematuria): Cyst rupture or urinary tract infections can lead to visible blood in the urine.

  • Liver cysts: Cyst formation can extend to the liver, occasionally leading to discomfort and, rarely, liver dysfunction.

Brain aneurysms: There is a slightly increased risk of developing aneurysms in the brain among individuals with ADPKD.

  • Diverticulosis: The presence of diverticula in the colon can be more common in those with ADPKD.

Pregnancy-related complications: Pregnant women with ADPKD are at a higher risk for complications such as pre-eclampsia.

Monitoring and early management of these complications are crucial for individuals with ADPKD to maintain quality of life and slow disease progression. Regular check-ups with healthcare providers specialized in kidney diseases are therefore recommended.


Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) is a genetic disorder, making prevention challenging. There are no guaranteed methods to prevent the development of ADPKD for individuals with a family history of the disease. However, early detection and management of symptoms can help in reducing the risk of complications.

Genetic Counseling: Seeking genetic counseling is imperative for prospective parents with a family history of ADPKD. A genetic counselor can provide:

  • Risk assessment
  • Genetic testing information
  • Reproductive options

Healthy Lifestyle Choices: Individuals with ADPKD should adopt healthy lifestyle practices to support kidney health:

  • Maintain normal blood pressure: High blood pressure can accelerate kidney damage in ADPKD.
  • Balanced diet: Low in salt, processed foods, and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Regular exercise: Helps control blood pressure and weight.
  • Adequate hydration: Fluid intake should be sufficient, but excessive water consumption does not prevent cyst formation.

Regular Monitoring: Early and regular monitoring can help manage the symptoms of ADPKD:

  • Blood pressure checks
  • Kidney function tests
  • Imaging tests: Ultrasounds, MRI, or CT scans to monitor cyst growth

Medications: No specific medications prevent ADPKD, but treatment may be prescribed for managing symptoms:

  • Antihypertensives: Control high blood pressure.
  • Pain medication: Manage chronic pain associated with cysts.