Kidney Cyst: Symptoms, Pain, Causes & Treatments

Janis

By Janis | Updated January 1, 2024

Kidneys play a crucial role in controlling the amount of salt and water in the body, as well as removing waste products by filtering the blood and making urine.

Kidney cysts are closed pouches or sacs filled with air or liquid that develop within the kidneys. While the exact cause of simple kidney cysts remains uncertain, some cases may involve existing kidney diseases or long-term dialysis treatment.

Symptoms of kidney cysts can range from dull to severe back or side pain, upper abdominal pain, abdominal swelling, and fever.

When it comes to diagnosing kidney cysts, medical professionals often rely on imaging tests such as MRI, CT, and ultrasound. These tests help ascertain whether a kidney mass is a cyst or a tumor, and blood tests may reveal the effect of the cyst on kidney function. 

Treatment and prevention of kidney cysts vary, but early detection and proper management are crucial to reducing the risk of complications and maintaining good kidney health.

Symptoms of Kidney Cysts

Kidney cysts are fluid-filled sacs that form on or in the kidneys. While they’re typically noncancerous and cause no symptoms, larger cysts might become problematic. Recognizing potential signs early can be vital for effective management and intervention.

Pain

Kidney cysts can cause dull pain in the back or side.

The pain is usually between the ribs and pelvis. It can become severe if the cyst bursts, but it’s typically a dull ache in the affected area. It can also be felt in the upper abdomen or hips, causing discomfort during daily activities.

Fever

Fever may occur if a kidney cyst becomes infected. 

An elevated body temperature, usually accompanied by chills, can be a sign of infection and should be monitored closely.

High Blood Pressure

Kidney cysts can sometimes lead to high blood pressure due to their impact on kidney function. 

The kidneys play a vital role in regulating blood pressure, and any disruption may cause an increase in your blood pressure levels.

Urinary Tract Infections

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) may occur more frequently in individuals with kidney cysts. This is because the cysts can cause an obstruction in the urinary tract, leading to the buildup of bacteria. 

If you have kidney cysts and experience symptoms such as a strong urge to urinate, a burning sensation when urinating, or cloudy, dark, or foul-smelling urine, it may indicate a UTI.

Blood in the urine

Hematuria, or blood in the urine, is another potential symptom of kidney cysts. 

A burst cyst may cause blood to appear in the urine, which is typically harmless but should be reported to a healthcare professional for further evaluation.

Kidney Stones

Kidney stones may develop as a result of kidney cysts. These hard deposits can form inside the kidneys and cause severe pain when they pass through the ureter, which is a tube that connects the kidney to the bladder. 

Risk Factors

Several factors can increase the likelihood of developing kidney cysts. Understanding these risk factors can help individuals be more proactive in monitoring their kidney health and seeking appropriate medical care if necessary.

Age

Age plays a significant role in the development of kidney cysts, with older individuals facing heightened risks. 

As the years advance, the likelihood of encountering renal cysts increases, emphasizing age as a crucial risk factor.

Gender

Gender can influence the prevalence of kidney cysts. Men, especially those over 50, tend to be more susceptible to these cysts than women. 

Understanding this disparity helps in risk assessment and early intervention.

Family History

A family history of kidney cysts can increase one’s likelihood of developing them. 

Individuals with close relatives who’ve had cysts should be vigilant and consider regular screenings for early detection.

Diabetes

People with diabetes may have an increased risk of kidney cysts due to related kidney damage.

Diabetes has been identified as a potential risk factor for kidney cysts due to its effect on renal function and blood flow, possibly contributing to cyst formation. 

High Sodium Intake

Consuming large amounts of sodium can increase the risk of kidney issues, potentially leading to the development of cysts.

High sodium intake puts additional stress on the kidneys, affecting their filtering capacity. Over time, this strain can contribute to the development or exacerbation of kidney cysts.

Types of Kidney Cysts

Kidney cysts can be classified into different types based on their causes and characteristics. Understanding these distinctions is crucial for both diagnosis and treatment.

Simple Kidney Cysts

Simple kidney cysts are fluid-filled sacs that form in the kidneys. They are typically noncancerous and usually don’t cause any symptoms.

Cystic Kidney Disease

Cystic kidney disease is a group of conditions that lead to the formation of cysts in or around the kidneys. 

Common types of cystic kidney disease include acquired cystic kidney disease and polycystic kidney disease. The exact causes of cystic kidney disease vary depending on the type, but genes and certain medical conditions can play a role.

Acquired Cystic Kidney Disease

Acquired cystic kidney disease (ACKD) is a type of cystic kidney disease that is not inherited. 

It usually develops in people with chronic kidney disease, especially those who have been on dialysis for a long time. The cause of ACKD remains unclear, but it is believed to be associated with long-term kidney damage.

Polycystic Kidney Disease

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is an inherited disorder marked by the development of numerous cysts in the kidneys. Polycystic kidney disease is categorized into two main types: autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) and autosomal recessive polycystic kidney disease (ARPKD). 

The underlying cause of PKD is a mutation in specific genes responsible for kidney development. 

Diagnosis of Kidney Cysts

These methods help accurately diagnose kidney cysts, determine their nature, and guide appropriate treatment options.

Physical Examination and Medical History

During the diagnosis of kidney cysts, the doctor will first perform a physical examination and review your medical history. This process allows them to look for any signs or symptoms related to kidney cysts and assess potential risk factors. 

It is essential to inform your doctor about any previous or existing health conditions, as this information can help clarify the cause of the kidney cysts.

Urine and Blood Tests

The doctor may conduct urine and blood tests to assess your kidney function further. Urine tests help detect any abnormalities or infection, while blood tests evaluate the levels of waste products in the blood, which can be an indicator of how well your kidneys are functioning. 

Imaging Tests

Several imaging tests can be used to diagnose kidney cysts effectively. 

These tests provide a clear visual representation of your kidneys, making it easier for the doctor to identify cysts and determine their nature.

Ultrasound

Ultrasounds are a common and non-invasive diagnostic tool that can help identify simple kidney cysts through the use of sound waves. 

This method produces images of your kidneys and allows the doctor to examine the size, shape, and location of the cysts.

CT Scan

CT scans are another diagnostic imaging method that helps create a more detailed view of the kidneys by using X-rays and computer technology. 

CT scans can be used to evaluate the size, location, and structure of kidney cysts.

MRI

MRI is a valuable tool when it comes to diagnosing kidney cysts. 

This imaging technique uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to generate detailed images of the kidneys, making it possible to distinguish between cysts and tumors.

Complications

Kidney cysts, although typically benign, may sometimes lead to complications. Some common complications include:

Infection and Bursting of Cyst

When kidney cysts become infected, they can lead to severe pain, fever, and complications.

If a cyst bursts, it may release its contents, further increasing the risk of infection and potential kidney damage.

Bleeding

Cysts may bleed, causing blood in the urine, which could potentially be symptomatic of kidney damage.

Bleeding within a kidney cyst can cause intense pain and complicate its diagnosis. The presence of blood may also increase pressure within the cyst, leading to potential rupture or kidney impairment.

Kidney Damage: 

In some cases, the growth or size of cysts can cause kidney damage.

Kidney cysts, if they grow too large, can exert pressure on the surrounding renal tissue, potentially impairing kidney function. Over time, this can lead to chronic kidney disease or even renal failure if untreated.

Treatment and Management of Kidney Cysts

The choice of treatment for kidney cysts depends on a variety of factors, including the size, location, and symptoms of the cyst, as well as the patient’s overall health and preferences. 

By closely monitoring the situation and discussing your options with your healthcare provider, you can develop a personalized treatment plan.

Regular Monitoring

In many cases, kidney cysts do not require immediate treatment. 

If the cyst is not causing any symptoms or complications, a watchful waiting approach may be recommended by your healthcare provider. 

This involves regular monitoring of the cyst through imaging tests like ultrasound, CT, or MRI scans and assessing kidney function to ensure it remains stable.

Sclerotherapy

If a kidney cyst is causing symptoms or complications, one treatment option may be sclerotherapy. This minimally invasive procedure involves the use of ultrasound guidance to insert a needle into the cyst. 

The fluid inside is then drained, and a sclerosing agent is injected into the empty cyst to prevent it from refilling. This procedure is generally successful in reducing symptoms caused by the cyst, but the procedure may need to be repeated if the cyst recurs.

Cyst Removal

In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the kidney cyst. This can be done with laparoscopic or open surgery. The surgeon will carefully drain the cyst and remove any surrounding tissue to prevent recurrence. 

Prevention and Outlook of Kidney Cysts

Preventing kidney cysts isn’t always possible, but understanding risk factors can guide proactive measures.

Prevention Strategies

While the exact cause of simple kidney cysts is still unknown, there are some steps you can take to potentially reduce your risk of developing or worsening cystic kidney disease:

Blood Pressure Monitoring

Maintain a healthy blood pressure level, as high blood pressure can exacerbate kidney problems. 

Monitor your blood pressure regularly, and consult your healthcare provider for ways to manage it, such as through diet, exercise, or medication.

Manage Existing Health Conditions

Manage underlying conditions: Certain conditions, like diabetes or polycystic kidney disease, are linked to the development of kidney cysts. 

Proper management of these conditions can lower the risk of cyst formation.

Prognosis

The prognosis for simple kidney cysts is generally favorable. In most cases, they are harmless and do not cause any symptoms or negatively impact kidney function. However, complications can arise in some instances. 

In the case of cystic kidney disease, the outlook may vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. Some types of cystic kidney disease can lead to progressive loss of kidney function and eventually end-stage renal disease, which requires dialysis or kidney transplant. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the common symptoms of kidney cysts?

Kidney cysts might be asymptomatic at first, but they can cause symptoms if they grow or become infected. 

Common symptoms may include dull pain in the back or side, pain in the upper abdomen or hips, fever (if the cyst becomes infected), blood in the urine, and frequent urination.

How are kidney cysts diagnosed?

Diagnosing kidney cysts typically involves imaging tests such as MRI, CT scans, and ultrasounds. These tests assist in determining whether a kidney mass is a cyst or a tumor. 

Additionally, blood tests, known as kidney function tests, can reveal how well the kidneys are functioning.

What are the causes of kidney cysts?

The exact cause of kidney cysts is not known. They are considered a natural part of the aging process, and most people will develop at least one simple kidney cyst by age 50. 

Cysts can also be associated with genetic conditions, such as polycystic kidney disease.

How can kidney cysts be prevented?

There is no guaranteed way to prevent kidney cysts. 

However, maintaining a healthy kidney function by staying hydrated, monitoring blood pressure, and managing medical conditions that could potentially damage the kidneys can help reduce risk.

What are the treatment options for kidney cysts?

Treatment for kidney cysts depends on the size, location, and type of cyst. Simple kidney cysts, which are benign and asymptomatic, may not require treatment. 

However, if the cyst causes symptoms or complications, treatment options can include draining the cyst, surgery, or medications to manage the symptoms.