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Polycystic Liver Disease: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

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How Is Polycystic Liver Disease Diagnosed?

Because symptoms do not always occur, the majority of people learn they have PLD during a routine medical exam or diagnosis of kidney disease related to polycystic kidney disease.

The fact that you may have a few cysts does not mean you have polycystic liver disease. Many factors are involved in diagnosing PLD, including family history, age, and number of cysts.

You may be diagnosed with polycystic liver disease if:

  • You have a family member with PLD, are under the age of 40, and have more than one cyst.
  • You have a family member with PLD, are older than 40, and have more than three cysts.
  • You have no family members with PLD, are over the age of 40, and have more than 20 cysts.

 

How Is Polycystic Liver Disease Treated?

Treatment is usually not needed unless you have symptoms. Mild pain associated with PLD can be treated with pain medication. However, if the cysts cause significant discomfort or other complications, there are a number of treatment options. Which option is best for you will depend on the extent of your pain, the location of the cysts, and other complications. Treatments may include:

  • Cyst aspiration: If a cyst is blocking a bile duct or if it has become infected, your doctor may recommend draining it. During cyst aspiration, your doctor, guided by ultrasound or CT imaging, will use a needle or catheter to drain the fluid in the cyst or cysts. Unfortunately, cyst aspiration offers only temporary relief. Cysts often fill up with fluid again. Sclerotherapy -- a procedure in which the cyst is injected with a hardening substance, like alcohol -- may be performed along with aspiration to prevent fluid from collecting in the cysts. If you have an infection, antibiotics will be prescribed.
  • Cyst fenestration: If you have large cysts on the surface of your liver, your doctor may suggest you have surgery to remove the wall of the cyst - a process called cyst fenestration or de-roofing.
  • Liver resection: If the majority of cysts are in a particular area of the liver, your doctor may be able to surgically remove that part of the liver to provide pain relief and reduce the size of the liver. Or, if you have a few large cysts, your doctor may be able to surgically remove those. However, if you have thousands of small cysts spread all over the liver, liver resection will probably not work.
  • Liver transplantation: If liver resection is not possible or doesn't relieve your symptoms, a liver transplant may be an option. This treatment is typically reserved for people who are experiencing severe abdominal pain, having trouble eating, and whose overall quality of life is suffering. Liver transplant for polycystic liver disease is rarely performed. Less than 100 people a year in the U.S. require a liver transplant as a result of polycystic liver disease.

 

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