Cysts can appear on your kidneys, especially as you get older. Almost half of people aged 50 years or older have kidney cysts. They’re more likely to occur in men than women, and they sometimes don’t present any symptoms.
What are kidney cysts?
The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located in your upper abdomen. They filter all the waste from your blood and expel it through your urine.
Cysts, or small sacs filled with watery fluid, can appear on the exterior of the kidneys and often don’t cause symptoms. They can grow as small as a pea or as big as a golf ball, and are circular or ovular in shape. These are called simple kidney cysts, which don’t usually affect the function of the kidney.
Often, simple kidney cysts have no symptoms. The doctor may discover it while performing an imaging test for another reason.
You’ll likely start to experience these symptoms if the cyst grows, bursts, or becomes infected:
- Pain or discomfort in the upper abdominal area
- Blood in your urine or problems passing urine
- High blood pressure
If you have any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention. Cysts may cause a slight decline in kidney function.
It’s not known why simple cysts appear on the kidney, but it’s more likely to happen as you age. Since doctors don’t know what causes them, they’re difficult to prevent.
Some diseases can cause kidney cysts, including polycystic kidney disease (PKD). People who have PKD develop groups of cysts inside their kidneys. PKD runs in families and can cause the kidney to stop functioning properly.
People with chronic kidney disease may develop acquired cystic kidney disease (ACKD). This is even more likely if they are on dialysis. Here, cysts appear only on the kidneys, which are normal in size, and not in other areas of the body. ACKD does not usually have symptoms.
Who can get them
Simple kidney cysts are more likely to happen as you get older, and men are twice as likely to develop them than women. People who smoke or have high blood pressure also have a greater chance of developing kidney cysts. Those with a genetic predisposition or who have a medical condition, such as polycystic kidney disease, are more susceptible as well.
Diagnosis for kidney cysts
An imaging test diagnoses kidney cysts. If you suspect that you have a cyst on your kidney or are experiencing symptoms, the doctor will take a look at your medical history and recommend one of the following tests for you:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Computed tomography scan (CT scan)
A technician will perform the imaging test and collect the images. Once they’ve gone over them, they’ll be able to tell your doctor what type of cyst you have: simple or complex. Simple cysts don’t usually require as much medical attention as complex ones. Complex cysts can be linked to cancer.