Polycystic kidney disease


When your child has polycystic kidney disease (PKD), fluid-filled cysts grow in the kidneys. These PKD cysts can reduce kidney function, which can lead to kidney failure. There are three types of PKD, all of which are diagnosed and treated by our specially trained multi-disciplinary team.

  1. Autosomal dominant PKD (inherited)- "Autosomal dominant" means that if one parent has the disease, there is a 50 percent chance that the disease will pass to any child, and that boys and girls are equally affected.
  2. Autosomal recessive PKD (inherited)- "autosomal recessive," which means that both parents must be asymptomatic carriers for the gene and that 25% of their children may inherit the disease.
  3. Acquired cystic kidney disease (non-inherited) Unlike the genetic forms, this form of PKD is not inherited.

Get a second opinion

If your child is recently diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, consider getting a second opinion from the experts at Children's Wisconsin.


Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD)

  • Asymptomatic enlarged kidneys with cysts (often detected by ultrasound)
  • Detectable abdominal mass
  • High blood pressure Hematuria (blood in the urine)
  • Abnormal heart valves
  • Cerebral aneurysms (abnormal enlargement of brain blood vessels, often familial)
  • Uncommon findings in children include: liver and pancreatic cysts, kidney stones, abdominal pain, diverticulosis (abnormal bulging of intestine walls)

Autosomal recessive polycystic disease (ARPKD)

Kidney symptoms:

  • Markedly enlarged kidneys
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal kidney function
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Frequent urination

Liver symptoms:

  • Enlarged liver and spleen
  • Bleeding
  • Infections (ascending cholangitis)
  • Abnormal blood counts


  • Abnormal digestion (leading to poor growth)


Because the symptoms of ADPKD and ARPKD can resemble other conditions, the Children's team will first work to establish a definitive diagnosis. We may use imaging techniques, a detailed review of your family history, and genetic testing to help us make the diagnosis. In some cases, ultrasound examinations of relatives' kidneys may also be helpful.


If a positive diagnosis is made, we design a treatment plan specifically for your child, which may include one or more of the following:

  • Monitoring and treatment for high blood pressure
  • Specific dietary modifications
  • Regular monitoring of kidney function, and kidney imaging (ultrasound)
  • Specific guidelines on the use of medications which may adversely affect disease progression Guidelines on participation in athletics, including the use of kidney shields
  • Education; including regular updates of new disease-specific therapies now in clinical trials
  • In rare instances: pain medication, or surgical decompression of enlarged kidney cysts
  • Renal replacement therapies- Dialysis, Kidney transplantation
  • For ARPKD patients- in addition to above- monitoring of liver function, liver transplantation and in some cases combined kidney-liver transplantation is considered.


Contact us

For established patients with questions about their child’s care, contact the Renal and Hypertension Clinic nurse:

(414) 266-2018

For established Dialysis patients with questions about their child’s care, contact the Dialysis Unit:

(414) 266-2840

Make an appointment

To make an appointment, call our Central Scheduling team or request an appointment online.

(877) 607-5280

Request an appointment

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Request a dialysis appointment

To request a dialysis appointment, call:

(414) 266-2840

For those needing assistance for coordinating their care with multiple sub-specialists' appointments, or for attending the PKD Clinic for the first time, please contact our Renal Clinic nurse at (414) 266-2018.