Polycystic liver disease (PLD)


Polycystic liver disease is genetic and usually associated with autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD)

Female patient in bed 904794462.jpg


Polycystic liver disease (PLD) is usually discovered during diagnosis of kidney disease. Most people with polycystic kidney disease will also have PLD, which is often diagnosed in their forties or fifties. A swollen, painful abdomen and an enlarged, hardened liver (hepatomegaly) are usually associated with PLD. Cysts can also become infected.

Need to know

Most people with PLD have no symptoms and the cysts are only found during an ultrasound scan. Symptoms develop as the cysts increase in size and number, and may include:

  • Abdominal bloating and pain
  • Early satiety (fullness) when eating
  • Heartburn or vomiting
  • Change in bowel habit
  • Rarely, the cysts may cause complications:
  • Cysts may bleed or rupture
  • Cysts may become infected, causing pain and fever
  • When the cysts cause the liver to enlarge, you may experience hernias, prolapse of the womb, rib fractures, obstruction of the bile duct and obstruction of one of the veins in the abdomen
  • Bile duct cancer and congenital hepatic fibrosis can occur
Your consultant will check your own and your relatives’ medical history, and physically examine you.

Liver and kidney function tests may be used. Liver function tests (LFTs) are blood tests that can indicate whether your liver is inflamed (hepatitis), damaged or not working properly. They measure levels of certain enzymes and proteins in your blood that may alter when liver damage is present.

Tests such as ultrasound, CT or MRI scans may also be required to check the size and position of the cysts in the liver.
Liver cysts rarely require treatment.

Where necessary, laparoscopic de-roofing (surgical draining) can be helpful for reducing larger, uncomfortable cysts.

In rare cases of severe PLD where multiple cysts cause the liver to become significantly enlarged and painful (leading to more complications), partial liver resection (removal of part of the liver with cysts) or a liver transplant may be required. The latter is only recommended if your quality of life has become very poor and other treatments are no longer helpful.

Also note that the course of your treatment may be influenced by the extent of any associated kidney disease you may have.

Patient stories

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.