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Kidney Cyst - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Kidney Cyst - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Kidney cysts are small sacs filled with fluid that develop in the kidneys and affect their functioning. Read the article below to learn more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Published At January 22, 2020
Reviewed AtDecember 22, 2023

What Is a Kidney Cyst?

A fluid-filled round pouch that grows inside a kidney is called a cyst. Kidneys are bean-shaped organs that produce urine by clearing out waste from the bloodstream. Single or multiple cysts can be present in a single kidney or both kidneys. Kidney cysts do not usually produce any symptoms and are harmless. As they do not produce any signs or symptoms, they are mostly diagnosed accidentally during an abdominal scan for some other condition. Sometimes, kidney cysts are associated with severe conditions, which can disrupt kidney function. If the size of the kidney cyst is small, it can be managed without surgery, but if it is large, it needs to be treated through surgery.

What Are the Types of Kidney Cysts?

The two types of kidney cysts are:

Simple Kidney Cysts: These are usually noncancerous and rarely cause any complications. The cause still needs to be clarified, though. Often, a single cyst is seen on the surface of the affected kidney. These cysts do not cause any symptoms and do not require treatment. These cysts can be removed without surgery.

Polycystic Kidney Disease: Polycystic kidney disease is a condition where multiple cysts form on the kidneys. This type of cyst damages the kidney function and structure as they grow larger.

What Is Meant by a Larger Kidney Cyst?

Renal cysts are small cysts filled with fluid and are round or oval. They do not cause any symptoms and can be diagnosed only through image testing. When these cysts are unusually larger, they are called larger kidney cysts. These larger kidney cyst causes pain and block the way urine is. This cyst needs to be treated by inserting a needle into the cyst and draining the contents of the cyst. These cysts usually require surgery.

What Is Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD)?

It is an inherited condition resulting in cluster cysts within the kidneys. It makes the kidneys enlarge and causes loss of kidney function over time. These cysts can vary in size and shape and grow very large. The cyst can also grow in the liver or other body organs. Polycystic kidney disease can result in high blood pressure and kidney failure. The incidence of complications can be reduced with the help of lifestyle changes and treatments. Most complications are preventable and depend on the severity of the condition.

What Causes a Kidney Cyst?

The exact cause of kidney cysts is not known. The kidney has several tiny tubules that collect urine. It is believed that the following are the possible causes of kidney cysts:

  • A cyst might start when these tubules get blocked, swell up, or get filled with push.

  • When the weakened areas of the tubules form pouches (diverticula), they get filled with fluid and can result in a cyst.

What Are the Risk Factors Associated With Kidney Cysts?

The following are the factors that increase the risk of kidney cysts:

  • People older than 50 years. Almost 50 percent of people older than 50 years have a kidney cyst.

  • Polycystic kidney disease is an inherited disorder. So, it runs in families and results from changes to genes.

What Are the Symptoms of a Kidney Cyst?

Most of the cysts are very small, which cannot be seen with the naked eye and need a microscope. But, some cysts can grow big, compress nearby organs, and cause symptoms. Symptoms are also seen when the cyst becomes infected. Some of the symptoms of a simple kidney cyst, when it grows too big or gets infected, are:

  • Fever.

  • Dull back pain or between the ribs and pelvis.

  • The pain becomes severe if the cyst bursts.

  • Upper abdominal pain.

  • Abdominal swelling.

  • Frequent urination.

  • Blood in the urine.

  • Dark-colored urine.

The symptoms of polycystic kidney disease are:

How Is a Kidney Cyst Diagnosed?

Kidney cysts can be diagnosed by recording the patient’s history and determining the signs and symptoms. Suppose a person is suffering from any symptoms. In that case, the doctor will perform the following tests and procedures to diagnose kidney cysts and rule out other conditions that result in similar symptoms:

  • Ultrasound, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), or CT (computerized tomography) scan. These imaging tests are done to determine if the growth on the kidney is a cyst or a tumor.

  • Kidney function tests to check if the growth is impairing the functioning of the kidneys.

  • Urinalysis is a method in which the content of the urine is tested.

How Is a Kidney Cyst Treated?

Some asymptomatic cases, which are cysts that cause no signs or symptoms or do not interfere with kidney function, do not usually need treatment. For such cysts, the doctor will suggest getting periodic imaging tests (ultrasound) to check if the kidney cyst is growing. The doctor will recommend treatment if the kidney cyst increases in size or starts producing symptoms. Sometimes, a simple kidney cyst resolves on its own.

The treatment for symptomatic kidney cysts includes:

  • Sclerotherapy- In this case, kidney cyst removal is done without surgery. The cyst is punctured and drained and then filled with alcohol. The doctor will first inject an anesthetic solution and then insert a long and thin needle into the cyst wall through the skin with the help of an ultrasound. Then, the needle is used to draw out the fluid. The cyst is refilled with alcohol to prevent a recurrence.

  • Surgery- If the cyst is big and affects kidney function, then the cyst needs to be surgically removed. The cyst is first drained and then removed. The surgeon makes several small cuts in the skin and inserts specialized instruments through the incisions. The instruments have a camera at their end, which helps the surgeon visualize and guide the instruments to drain the fluid filled in the cyst. The pouch surrounding the cyst is then burned or cut off.

What Are the Possible Complications of a Kidney Cyst?

In rare cases, simple kidney cysts can result in the following possible complications:

  • The cyst can rupture and cause pain.

  • Back pain.

  • The cyst can get infected.

  • The kidneys get swollen due to urine obstruction.

  • High blood pressure.

  • Blood in the urine.

What Size of Kidney Cyst Is Dangerous?

When the cyst is small, it can be removed without surgery. When the cyst is larger than three centimeters, it can interrupt the flow of urine. In some cases, the size of the cyst can cause blood in the urine. In these cases, the kidney cyst is considered to be dangerous. These need to be treated immediately. When not treated, it can cause pain in the sides, stomach, and back, fever, frequent urination, and blood.


A kidney cyst is usually harmless and does not cause any complications. When the size of the kidney cyst is small, it can be managed without surgery. Surgery or sclerotherapy can help prevent permanent kidney damage if the cyst grows. If a person is experiencing these symptoms, immediate medical advice should be sought. When treated promptly, most complications are not fatal. But if left untreated, the symptoms may worsen and can also be fatal.

Frequently Asked Questions


Is Kidney Cyst a Serious Condition?

Most simple kidney cysts are rarely harmful and do not cause any problems. If a cyst grows continuously, sclerotherapy or surgery can remove it. This limits the incidence of long-term complications. However, polycystic kidney disease can be serious. Without treatment, polycystic kidney disease can lead to complications, such as high blood pressure and even kidney failure.


How Can I Treat a Kidney Cyst?

When your cyst is diagnosed to be a simple cyst, you usually do not have to worry. It does not require any medical treatment unless it causes any symptoms. But symptomatic cysts require treatment. The currently available treatment modalities for kidney cyst include:
- Painkillers for pain.
- Antibiotics to avoid the incidence of infection.
- Puncturing and drainage of the cyst followed by filling it with alcohol.
- Surgical removal of the cyst. This is indicated when the patient has a large or symptomatic cyst.


Does a Cyst on Your Kidney Cause Pain?

In situations where simple kidney cysts grow large, they can cause a pain that is characterized to be dull in nature, which is most commonly felt at the person's back, side, or upper abdomen. These cysts can sometimes get infected, which causes symptoms like pain, fever, and tenderness. They can also burst and cause pain.


What Are the Foods to Be Avoided With Kidney Cysts?

The following foods should be avoided by a person who is diagnosed to have kidney cysts:
- Dark-colored soda.
- Avocados.
- Canned foods.
- Whole wheat bread.
- Brown rice.
- Bananas.
- Dairy products.
- Oranges and orange juice.


What Complications Can Arise if a Cyst Is Left Untreated?

In situations where kidney cysts are left untreated, benign cysts can lead to serious complications. The commonly seen complication is an infection where the kidney cyst fills with bacteria, pus, and later becomes an abscess. If the abscess bursts out inside the body cavity itself, there is a risk of blood poisoning, which is termed as septicemia.


What Does a Cyst on the Kidney Suggest?

Kidney cysts are anatomically seen as round pouches that are filled with fluid that usually form in the kidneys. Kidney cysts can be associated with serious underlying disorders that may impair normal kidney function. They are known as simple or noncancerous cysts that commonly do not cause any complications and cancerous cysts.


Can Kidney Cyst Be Cured by Medical Management?

Mostly kidney cysts do not need any medical treatment. However, they require periodic monitoring. Kidney cysts that present with clinical symptoms only require treatment. They may produce problems such as blocking the flow of urine or blood through the kidneys. In these patients, a doctor (urologist) may recommend painkillers and antibiotics. The draining of the cyst is known as sclerotherapy.


What Can Happen if a Kidney Cyst Bursts Out?

A kidney cyst that bursts usually is noted to cause severe pain in the patient's back or side(flanks). Urinary obstruction can also be noted. A kidney cyst capable of obstructing the normal flow of urine through the ureters may lead to swelling of the kidney. It is due to the buildup of urine known by the condition hydronephrosis.


Is It Necessary to Remove Kidney Cysts?

If the patient's simple kidney cyst is not noted to cause any signs or symptoms and does not disturb the person's normal kidney function, they do not need any surgical treatment. Instead, the urologist may recommend the patient have a routine imaging test, such as ultrasound, to check whether your kidney cyst has enlarged.


Can Kidney Cysts Cause UTI?

Yes, kidney cysts can lead to the development of urinary tract infections. It is because of the alteration in the tissues of the kidneys caused by the kidney cysts. The bacteria that usually cause a urinary tract infection may enter the urinary tract through the urethral opening.


Can Kidney Cysts Bleed?

In certain situations, a kidney cyst might grow large enough to severely affect the kidneys, which increases the kidney's size massively. Under these conditions, the kidney may press on other nearby organs and causes pain in the flanks or stomach. A simple kidney cyst, when infected, can also bleed, which causes pain, fever, or blood in the urine known as hematuria.


Can a Kidney Cyst Be Mistaken for a Kidney Stone?

It is common that kidney cysts can often be mistaken for a renal stone or a gallstone. This is more common when the kidney cysts lie in the right upper quadrant region of the abdomen.


What Are Known as Simple Cysts on Kidneys?

Renal cysts are anatomical sacs of fluid that develop in the kidneys. They are usually categorized as "simple" cysts, which means that they have a thin wall and are filled with water-like fluid. Renal cysts are common as people's age increases. These cysts usually do not cause any severe symptoms or harm.


What Is the Normal Size of a Kidney Cyst?

Kidney cysts are structurally round, and they have a thin, clear wall. These cysts range in size from being microscopic to around 5 cm in diameter. These cysts can be frequently associated with serious underlying conditions that may lead to impaired kidney function. However, simple kidney cysts do not tend to cause any symptoms or complications.


What Size Is Considered as a Large Kidney Cyst?

Simple cysts are usually microscopic and develop only up to five cm in diameter. Any cyst above this size is considered to be a large kidney cyst, and it presents with symptoms such as pain. A large kidney might require surgical drainage. It has an associated risk of bursting out if it is not drained as early as possible.


What Symptoms Are Seen With Kidney Cyst?

The following are the common symptoms that are seen in clinics in patients who are affected with kidney cysts
- Pain on the patient's side, ranging between your ribs and your hip.
- Pain in the belly or back.
- A fever.
- Frequent urge to urinate.
- Blood in the person's urine or dark urine.


Can Kidney Cyst Be Cured Naturally?

The incidence of simple kidney cysts cannot be prevented in most individuals. However, you can reduce the risk by drinking plenty of water and always use less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Severe kidney cysts cannot be cured naturally. They would always require medical management.


What Are the Various Risks Associated With a Kidney Cyst?

The most common risks associated with kidney cysts are:
- Severe pain.
- Infection.
- Cardiac congestion.
- Severe infection can lead to septicemia.
- Death due to metabolic waste buildup.


Can Kidney Cysts Cause Symptoms of Leg Pain?

Severe loss of normal kidney function can cause metabolic waste to build up to increased blood levels. This metabolic waste buildup can damage muscles and nerves, leading to muscle twitches, muscle weakness, cramps, and pain. This pain is especially noted in the extremities. Thus, kidney cysts can cause symptoms of leg pain.


Can Turmeric Help in Curing Kidney Cyst?

Curcumin is a substance that is present in turmeric. Various studies discovered that curcumin was noted to inhibit MDCK cyst development at the kidneys significantly. Maximum dose of curcumin caused about 62% inhibition of the cyst formation. Curcumin slowed down cyst enlargement both in the MDCK cyst model and the embryonic kidney cyst model. Thus turmeric can help in curing kidney cyst.
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Pulmonology (Asthma Doctors)


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