Cystic fibrosis (CF) is caused by a defective gene that changes the nature of bodily
secretions. Instead of being thin and lubricating, mucus is thick and sticky, especially
in the lungs and pancreas. This leads to breathing problems, lung infections, and
difficulty digesting food properly. CF also can affect the liver, the sweat glands,
and the reproductive organs.
Signs and symptoms of cystic fibrosis include frequent lung infections or pneumonia;
persistent wheezing; persistent cough with thick mucus; bulky, light-colored, foul-smelling
bowel movements or diarrhea; and failure to gain weight despite a good appetite. Someone
with CF may also have very salty sweat, poor height growth, nasal polyps (small growths
of tissue inside the nose), frequent sinus infections, and fatigue. Symptoms can be
mild or severe.
Treatment for someone with CF usually includes pulmonary therapy (treatments to
maintain lung function) and nutritional therapy (a high-calorie, high-fat diet with
vitamin supplements). Pancreatic enzymes can be prescribed for better food digestion.
People with CF also may need antibiotics to treat lung infections and mucolytic medication
(a mucus-thinning drug) to keep mucus thin and flowing.
Keep in Mind
People with CF have to take special care of themselves, but thanks to a better
understanding of CF and improved treatment, they can participate in school, work,
and leisure activities. Meanwhile, researchers are searching for a cure and working
on even better treatments to extend life expectancy and improve quality of life.
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