by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is an inherited disease. It causes a defect in certain cells of the lung and digestive system. The defect makes the cells produce a thick, sticky mucus. This mucus can cause:
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.
Risk Factors TOP
Factors that increase your chance of CF include:
The abnormally thick mucus of CF blocks certain organs. This causes many of the symptoms of CF.
Symptoms in infants may include:
Mucus that causes blockages in the lungs may lead to:
Mucus can also block the pancreas. This can block enzymes used to help you digest food. This can lead to:
Other symptoms may include:
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:
Your doctor may need to check your lungs. This may be done to look for symptoms or to determine treatment. Tests may include:
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:
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 two years of the diagnosis have fewer coughing episodes and better lung function. Some nutritional steps that may help include:
Managing Lung Infections
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:
Lung and Airway Support
Medications help keep the airways clear. Most will be delivered through an inhaler or nebulizer. Medications may include:
Other steps that may help clear mucus from the lungs include:
Oxygen therapy may be required as the disease progresses. Ventilation may also be needed. Talk to your doctor about whether these are options for you.
Support is important for those with CF and their families. Ask you doctor about local support groups or counseling options.
If you or your child is diagnosed with CF, follow your doctor's instructions. Keep all follow-up appointments as advised by your doctor.
American Lung Association
Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
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Last reviewed May 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 10/1/2013