When cysts develop on your kidneys, it’s called autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD). This progressive disease can be fatal, but the right treatments can help slow the formation of new cysts.

Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) is a life-threatening genetic condition that occurs when cysts develop on your kidneys. Your kidneys can enlarge as cysts grow, causing complications ranging from high blood pressure to kidney pain.

There’s no cure for ADPKD and no way to completely prevent new cysts, meaning it’s a progressive disease. Kidney failure occurs in more than half of people with the condition by age 70, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

While ADPKD is a progressive condition, it’s possible to slow down the disease and extend kidney function.

Here’s what you need to know about ADPKD, including how it affects the body and how to slow it down.

Despite being an inherited condition, ADPKD isn’t usually diagnosed until adulthood. This is often when symptoms develop. Common symptoms include:

High blood pressure

High blood pressure is sometimes the first sign of ADPKD. Growing cysts can constrict blood vessels, making it harder for blood to flow properly.

Urinary tract infections

Cysts can also affect the flow of urine, causing urine to remain in the body for a longer period of time. This in itself doesn’t cause a urinary tract infection (UTI), but it does provide an opportunity for bacteria to multiply, which can lead to an infection. If left untreated, UTIs can progress and cause infections in the bladder and kidneys.

Kidney stones

Cysts can also block the tubes that help kidneys filter waste and urine. If the kidneys can’t filter waste properly, crystals can form inside, causing a kidney stone. Symptoms of a kidney stone include severe abdominal pain and vomiting.

Kidney pain

Pain is another symptom of ADPKD. Cysts and enlarged kidneys can put pressure on tissues and other organs in your body. This can cause pain in your abdomen, side of your body, or back.

Urine in blood

Some people also see traces of blood in their urine. The blood can be red, pink, or brown. This is sometimes due to a ruptured cyst or a ruptured blood vessel around a cyst. A urinary tract infection (UTI) can also cause blood in your urine.

Kidney failure

Some people diagnosed with ADPKD eventually lose all or some kidney function due to chronic kidney disease (CKD). This occurs when the kidneys can no longer filter waste from the blood.

Kidney failure refers to having less than 15 percent of kidney function left, notes the Polycystic Kidney Disease Charity. Treatment for kidney failure is dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Several imaging tests can help diagnose ADPKD, such as a CT scan, an MRI, or an ultrasound. Your doctor will likely schedule a kidney function test, too. These assess how well your kidneys work.

There isn’t a single test to diagnose CKD, though. Instead, your doctor might complete at least three tests over at least 90 days. Once you’re diagnosed with CKD, the next step is to determine the stage.

Doctors use your glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which measures the amount of fluid your kidneys filter per minute, to stage the disease.

Stages of chronic kidney disease

190 or morenormal kidney function (90% or more)
260–89slightly worse than normal kidney function
3A45–59slightly to moderately worse kidney function
3B30–44slightly to moderately worse kidney function
415–29much worse than normal kidney function
5Less than 15kidneys are at risk of failure or have failed

Regardless of the stage of CKD you have, you can expect yearly kidney function tests to monitor your kidney health. Your doctor may check kidney function more frequently in cases of rapid progression.

While there’s no cure, you can take steps to ease symptoms, protect your kidneys, and slow the progression of ADPKD.

Pain medication

Flank pain, back pain, and kidney pain can disrupt your life. To help manage pain, your doctor might recommend aspirin or acetaminophen.

However, you should avoid taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen sodium (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). These drugs can cause kidney problems.

Other medication

If you’re at risk for rapidly progressing ADPKD, your doctor may also prescribe tolvaptan (Jynarque). This medication has been approved to help slow the decline of kidney function and the growth rate of new cysts.

Control high blood pressure

Taking medication to lower your blood pressure and lifestyle changes also help delay disease progression, thus extending kidney function. Lifestyle changes can include increasing physical activity, maintaining a moderate weight, eating a low sodium diet, and not smoking.

Promptly treat UTIs

If left untreated, UTIs can advance to bladder or kidneys infections. Also, take steps to reduce the risk of a UTI. This includes drinking plenty of fluids, wiping from front to back, and using the bathroom after intercourse.

Drink plenty of water

Drinking water also promotes kidney health by helping your kidneys remove waste. Drinking too little fluids or water can cause dehydration, which can lead to UTIs, kidney stones, and affect your overall kidney health. Aim for 6 to 8 cups of fluid a day.

ADPKD is a chronic condition that affects kidney function and can eventually cause kidney failure. While you can’t always prevent disease progression, you can take steps to protect your kidneys and slow the disease.

This includes avoiding medications that can harm your kidneys, treating high blood pressure and infections, and talking with your doctor about treatment options.