What are simple kidney cysts?
Simple kidney cysts are abnormal, fluid-filled sacs that form in the kidneys. Simple kidney cysts are different from the cysts that develop when a person has polycystic kidney disease (PKD), which is a genetic disorder. Simple kidney cysts do not enlarge the kidneys, replace their normal structure, or cause reduced kidney function like cysts do in people with PKD.
Simple kidney cysts are more common as people age. An estimated 25 percent of people 40 years of age and 50 percent of people 50 years of age have simple kidney cysts.
What causes simple kidney cysts?
The cause of simple kidney cysts is not fully understood. Obstruction of tubules—tiny structures within the kidneys that collect urine—or deficiency of blood supply to the kidneys may play a role. Diverticula—sacs that form on the tubules—may detach and become simple kidney cysts. The role of genetic factors in the development of simple kidney cysts has not been studied.
What are the symptoms of simple kidney cysts?
Simple kidney cysts usually do not cause symptoms or harm the kidneys. In some cases, however, pain can occur between the ribs and hips when cysts enlarge and press on other organs. Sometimes cysts become infected, causing fever, pain, and tenderness. Simple kidney cysts are not thought to affect kidney function, but one study found an association between the presence of cysts and reduced kidney function in hospitalized people younger than 60 years of age. Some studies have found a relationship between simple kidney cysts and high blood pressure. For example, high blood pressure has improved in some people after a large cyst was drained. However, this relationship is not well understood.
How are simple kidney cysts diagnosed?
Most simple kidney cysts are found during imaging tests done for other reasons. When a cyst is found, the following imaging tests can be used to determine whether it is a simple kidney cyst or another, more serious condition. These imaging tests are performed at an outpatient center or hospital by a specially trained technician, and the images are interpreted by a radiologist—a doctor who specializes in medical imaging. Ultrasound may also be performed in a health care provider’s office.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan. CT scans use a combination of x-rays and computer technology to create three-dimensional (3-D) images.
- MRI machines use radio waves and magnets to produce detailed pictures of the body’s internal organs and soft tissues without using x-rays.
How are simple kidney cysts treated?
Treatment is not needed for simple kidney cysts that do not cause any symptoms. Simple kidney cysts may be monitored with periodic ultrasounds.
Simple kidney cysts that are causing symptoms or blocking the flow of blood or urine through the kidney may need to be treated using a procedure called sclerotherapy. In sclerotherapy, the doctor punctures the cyst using a long needle inserted through the skin. Ultrasound is used to guide the needle to the cyst. The cyst is drained and then filled with a solution containing alcohol to make the kidney tissue harder. The procedure is usually performed on an outpatient basis with a local anesthetic.
If the cyst is large, surgery may be needed. Most surgeries can be performed using a laparoscope—a special tool with a small, lighted video camera. The procedure is usually done under general anesthesia in a hospital. The surgeon drains the cyst and then removes or burns away its outer tissue. This type of surgery allows for a smaller incision and quicker recovery.
Eating, Diet, and Nutrition
Eating, diet, and nutrition have not been shown to play a role in causing or preventing simple kidney cysts.
Points to Remember
- Simple kidney cysts are abnormal, fluid-filled sacs that form in the kidneys.
- Simple kidney cysts usually do not cause symptoms or harm the kidneys.
- Most simple kidney cysts are found during imaging tests done for other reasons.
- Treatment is not needed for simple kidney cysts that do not cause any symptoms.
- Simple kidney cysts that are causing symptoms or blocking the flow of blood or urine through the kidney may need to be treated using sclerotherapy or surgery.
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