Cystic fibrosis (CF) is an inherited disease. It causes a defect in certain cells of the lung and digestive systems. The defect makes the cells produce a thick, sticky mucus. This mucus can cause: Blockages in the lungs and airwaysProblems digesting and absorbing nutrients
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CF is a serious life-long condition, but the severity of the illness can vary greatly. The average life expectancy for someone with CF is about 35 years. Although, some with mild forms of CF can live to age 60 or beyond.
CF is a genetic disorder. A child with CF inherits defective genes from each parent. Parents who have the gene, but do not have CF, are called carriers.
Factors that increase your chance of CF include: Parents who are known carriers of the CF geneSiblings with CFParents with CF—more often the mother since men with CF may be sterile
The abnormally thick mucus of CF blocks certain organs. This causes many of the symptoms of CF.
Symptoms in infants may include: Difficulty passing the first stoolSalty sweatIntestinal obstruction, sometimes requiring surgery
Mucus that causes blockages in the lungs may lead to: Coughing and wheezingShortness of breathDifficulty with exerciseAbnormally shaped clubbed finger tipsMalformed chest
Mucus can also block the pancreas. This can block enzymes used to help you digest food. This can lead to: Bulky, bad-smelling, floating stools, due to poor digestion of fatsDiarrheaTrouble gaining weightPoor growthFailure to thriveMalnutritionDehydration
Other symptoms may include: Jaundice or other symptoms of liver diseaseChronic nasal congestion from chronic sinus infections Rectal prolapseNasal polypsExcessive thirst or urination that may indicate diabetes mellitus type 2Stomach pain or swelling from intestinal blockagePrevention of sperm production in malesMildly decreased fertility in females
Overall, girls are affected more severely than boys.
The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. CF is suspected in a child with classic symptoms, especially if a sibling has CF.
CF is often diagnosed by symptoms, family history of CF, or a positive screening test in newborns. The diagnosis may be confirmed with genetic testing. Other lab tests that may be used to confirm CF include: Sweat chloride testingTransepithelial nasal potential difference measurement
Your doctor may need to check your lungs. This may be done to look for symptoms or to determine treatment. Tests may include: Chest
and/or sinus x-rays
Lung function testsSputum cultures
Tests may also be needed to check the pancreas. These tests may be done to assess symptoms or determine treatment.
There is no cure for CF. Treatment is aimed at: Improving the amount of nutrition your body receivesPreventing and treating lung and sinus infectionsKeeping the airways and lungs as clear as possible
Treatment for CF includes:
Better nutrition will help improve overall health. It will also improve growth and development in children. Children who have returned to normal weight within 2 years of the diagnosis have fewer coughing episodes and better lung function. Some nutritional steps that may help include: A high-calorie diet planned by a registered dietitianNutritional supplements, including fat-soluble vitaminsPancreatic enzyme tablets with meals to improve digestion and absorption of nutrientsDrinking lots of fluids and salt replacement, especially in hot weather or during illnesses
Thick mucus in the airways increases the risk of respiratory infections. The infection can also be more severe because of the mucus. Treatment of a current infection often requires antibiotics. Prevention of new infections may be done with: VaccinationAntibiotics (usually inhaled)
Medications help keep the airways clear. Most will be delivered through an inhaler or nebulizer. Medications may include: Bronchodilators—to relax muscles and open the airwayMucolytic agents—to reduce mucus and help it move out of the lungSteroid inhalers—to decrease swelling and irritation (only when necessary)
Other steps that may help clear mucus from the lungs include: Hypertonic saline is a special type of salt water. A nebulizer machine creates a mist of this saline, which is inhaled. The mist may help thin out the mucus in the lungs.Chest percussion
is rhythmic clapping over the chest. They may help clear mucus from airways.
It is most helpful if done at least twice per day.
may be required as the disease progresses. Ventilation may also be needed.
Talk to your doctor about whether these are options for you.
Surgery may be required to treat blockages in the intestine.
may also be considered.
Support is important for those with CF and their families. Ask you doctor about local support groups or counseling options.
If you have the defective genes, there is no way to prevent CF.
Adults can be tested to see if they carry the genes before having children.
can determine if a baby will have CF.
About cystic fibrosis: what you need to know. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation website. Available at:
Accessed February 12, 2016.
Cystic fibrosis. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website. Available at:
Updated November 21, 2015. Accessed February 12, 2016.
Genetic testing. American Medical Association website. Available at:
Accessed February 12, 2016.
4/16/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance
http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116913/Cystic-fibrosis-CF: Lai HJ, Shoff SM, Farrell PM, Wisconsin Cystic Fibrosis Neonatal Screening Group. Recovery of birth weight z score within 2 years of diagnosis is positively associated with pulmonary status at 6 years of age in children with cystic fibrosis.
Last reviewed February 2016 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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