Polycystic Liver Disease

Polycystic liver disease (PLD or PCLD) is a rare condition that causes cysts—fluid-filled sacs—to grow throughout the liver. Most cysts are single, although some polycystic liver disease patients may have several. Cysts also can grow independently in different parts of the liver. A very small number of patients (0.6 percent of the general population) have polycystic liver disease, which is characterized by the liver appearing like a cluster of very large grapes, rather than the smooth, uniform appearance of a normal liver. The cysts, if they get too numerous or large, may cause discomfort and health complications.

The majority of people with polycystic liver disease inherit the condition. But sometimes, PLD can occur randomly with no genetic link. Women are affected more often than men and tend to have more cysts.

Most people don't discover they have PLD until they are adults, when the cysts become large enough to be detected by ultrasound or computed tomography. Cysts can vary in size from no bigger than a pinhead to almost four inches wide. Likewise, your liver can stay its normal size or become extremely enlarged. No matter the number or size of cysts, polycystic livers continue to function normally and the disease is not considered life-threatening.

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, surgery may be needed. In extreme cases, liver resection or liver transplantation may be required.